Saturday, February 22, 2014

Nevada by Imogen Binnie

Nevada is Imogen Binnie's funny, gritty novel about a trans woman named Maria. Armistead Maupin's Anna Madrigal, one of the grand dames of trans women in fiction, grew up in small town Nevada. I wonder if this inspired Binnie to set the pivotal point of her novel in a similar location? Whatever the reason, it works.

Maria is just as wonderful as Anna Madrigal, even though they're opposites in many ways. Maria is more into books than sex. Mary Gaitskill, William Gibson, Michelle Tea and Rebecca Solnit are some of the authors she name-drops. She prefers punk clothing layers to silk and chiffon. Also, Maria tends to alienate people rather than mother them. She even picks fights with herself. Drugs are not really her thing either.

"Piranha's always got pills. She's always got something going on, some kind of illegal Robin Hood self-care. But obviously it's kind of a big deal. Heroin's the cul-de-sac at the end of Drug Street."

After several years together, Steph and Maria are breaking up. Maria hates her job at a bookstore in New York, so that's another part of her life that's broken. She has trouble sleeping and is overdue for a hormone shot. Alcohol might be the solution, except:

"She can't really drink forties any more. Her twenty-nine year old sad old lady belly can't handle it. But sneaking a beer into the movie is the point, not the actual drinking.
[...] That stereotype about transsexuals being all wild and criminal and bold and outside the norm and, like, engendering in the townsfolk the courage to break free from the smothering constraints of conformity? That stereotype is about drag queens. Maria is transsexual and she is so meek she might disappear. She does sneak a forty into the movies, though."

(Does this remind anyone else of Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz?)

One night, Maria is so exhausted that she falls into a long, sound sleep.

"She wakes up around four thirty and feels rested. Do other people feel like this all the time? It's fucked up. Her head feels all clear and she thinks for a second about pouring herself a glass of breakfast wine, but then she thinks, no this is perfect! I have four hours until I have to be at work, which means I can shave, put on makeup, then go to Kellogg's and write for two and a half hours."

(I like the way Binnie played breakfast wine for a laugh, but it turns out that early-morning alcohol is going to be a thing here in Alberta. Premier Alison Redford announced that bars can serve alcohol at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning. Canada is in the Olympic men's gold-medal hockey game. Must. Drink. Beer.)

"No big deal but Maria is kind of popular and famous on the Internet, but so is everybody, so it's not very interesting. She's been blogging since she was a tiny little baby, like eighteen or nineteen years old, when being online was just starting to be demystified into something Rupert Murdoch could make money from. She figured out that she was trans by blogging. Awkward."

Maria still has a lot to figure out. She sets off on a road trip to the West Coast, which is why she is in Nevada, as advertised in the title.

"Kate Bornstein was right when she said none of this gender stuff is real, but she didn't go far enough. All of this gender stuff is stupid and it's so complicated that it's impossible to make sense of."

Actually, Maria does a pretty good job of making it less complicated. It is about being yourself. It is about being human. And it's about the meaningful connections we make with others.

Readalikes: Valencia and Rose of No Man's Land (Michelle Tea); Godspeed (Lynn Breedlove); and The Beautifully Worthless (Ali Liebegott).

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