Queer Books: Imogen Binnie’s “Nevada” Left Out a Climax
Image via Topside Press
It seems politically incorrect to admit that I didn’t care for Imogen Binnie’s debut novel, Nevada. It was the inaugural book choice for my Queer Book Nerd’s Book Group. I’ll go out on this contrarian limb because most of the group liked it, as do the majority of its reviewers, so I’ve got some cover. Or perhaps it’s the hidden punk in me. And there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?
Maria Griffiths is a twenty-something transgender lesbian punk female. She’s in a stale relationship, in a stale retail job, living a life that’s largely gone stale. When she discovers that her girlfriend, Steph, is lying to her, she takes off on her bike through Brooklyn, embarking on a journey of self-discovery. Up to that point, “she’s only been a woman in the context of relationships….[that] have been acting as cushions, as safety nets, enabling her not to have to figure out who she is.” The journey will eventually take Maria to Nevada where she meets and immediately identifies James as transgender. But even their interaction seems stale.
Throughout Nevada, Maria speaks of herself in third person which puts the reader at a distance even while they are privy to her very personal struggle to “stay true to her punk values.” The punk subculture is primarily concerned with concepts such as rebellion, anti-authoritarianism, individualism, free thought and discontent. And Maria certainly embodies those values. The reader certainly experiences her discontent and anger.
Maria does have every reason to be angry: a deceiving girlfriend, a transphobic society, a life she feels she’s wasted, “but now she is old, almost thirty, and she’s been going sleepless and depressed and drunk for so long that her body starts feeling like it’s collapsing at the slightest provocation.” I felt hammered by her continuous anger. But I guess that’s a little bit like punk music, isn’t it?
Ms. Binnie did offer a rare glimpse into the inner struggle of a transgender woman trying to find her place in an often hostile society. She explores various stereotypes applied to transgender people, (including the stereotype that they are largely isolated and form relationships mainly online), and provided a perspective both deeply personal and illuminating.
Imogen Binnie’s work has appeared in The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard and she is a monthly contributor to Maximum Rocknroll. She’s also written for Aorta Magazine, The Skinny and PrettyQueer.com. She blogs about books at www.keepyourbridgesburning.com.
Nevada reads like a blog which is perhaps another reason that I wasn’t completely satisfied with the novel. A blog can go on and on about a topic ad infinitum. A novel, on the other hand, needs structure. Nigel Watts in Writing a Novel and Getting Published talks about the “eight-point story arc” to include: stasis, trigger, the quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal, resolution. Nevada certainly has stasis, a trigger (girlfriend lying), even a quest of sorts and some surprise. But it seems to leave out the other elements entirely.
I craved a climax and some resolution. Could be I’m old-fashioned. I may not have cared for Nevada, but the Queer Book Nerd’s Book Group largely did. Feel free to take their word for it.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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