New flow who this?

The entire structure of how “Nevada” is written is much different than any of the previous works we’ve read over this semester. The only other novel I can think to compare it to would be “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe” in the way that it’s perceived and read as just a flow of thoughts onto the page. From the narration, the reader is unable to get a bigger picture of what’s going on in the story than what is usually found in most third person writing. We are only able to see into Maria’s stream of thoughts and therefore unable to see patterns in her character that she is unable to see herself, such as her “annual” abandonment of New York City. The zoom in focus into Maria’s thoughts and actions allows her to feel more “real” and “relatable”, her focus on negligible and self involved details is something that usually isn’t able to be established through a third person narrative but feels more personal.

I like Maria a lot as a character, but it’s hard not to become frustrated by her self sabotaging actions. It’s her focus towards self sabotage that I believe contributes to her inability to connect with others or to connect with her own feelings. Allowing herself to care and invest in her relationships would detract from her ability to make life more difficult from herself.

  1. Why do you think Maria continues to self sabotage? Do you think it’s a character flaw or something she came into the habit of in a way to cope with life?
  2. What are your thoughts on the stream of consciousness from Maria and it’s role in the third person narrative?

Lotta Loose Ends

The ending of Nevada is frustratingly anti-climactic. The book ends with James ditching Maria at a casino to go back to his unsatisfying relationship with his girlfriend. There’s no more after that; no resolution with Maria or what she’s going to do. There are a TON of loose ends left.

The ending, in my opinion, is super absurdist. There’s no meaning or anything to the ending; it simply ends with James wishing his girlfriend would give him head, something very mundane and sexual . Compared to a lot of the other books we read which at least had an ending, this is extremely different. Compare it to Zami where Lorde ends it with philosophical musings on her own life and struggles in the book. Not just narratively, there’s something missing in the ending of Nevada. There’s no closure, none.

I’m sure this is completely intentional on Binnie’s part. Perhaps she wanted to instill the frustrating bleakness of life or something equally depressing. There’s not a lot of room for happy interpretations here.

Looking at this from the perspective of Maria as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl as I posted earlier, it’s a definite subversion of the trope. Maria just absolutely fails at being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl here. James just ditches her and just goes back to his previous way of living. You really can’t fix a person if they really don’t want to be fixed.

Of all the books we read this semester, I feel like this has one of the more bleak endings. I know it leaves me bleak.

Questions

  1. Why do you think Imogen Binnie ended the novel this way?
  2. Do you think James was justified in leaving? Why or why not?

Good Morning

So far this stupid little jaunt away from the center of the universe hasn’t taught me anything about how to live a life post-transition and it sure doesn’t seem likely that I’m going to get to Oakland or San Francisco, or drive up to Portland, to Seattle or Olympia, and find somebody there who will sit me down and explain what I need to do to exist like a three-dimensional person who cares about her body and her mind and her life and her friends and her lovers and is able to exist in a relationship with another person.

I think about this idea a lot, and I empathize with Maria. I think we’ve probably even discussed it in class before, but why is it that we feel moving to a different place, getting away, meeting new people, etc. will make us (feel) any different? I guess, at least what I’m thinking right now, is that it’s a mechanism for deflecting the thought that the issue lies within us — and not within the place we’re in or the people around us.

James expresses something similar after meeting Maria. He’s sad and stagnant and confused in his life, and for a moment in Wal-Mart, Maria represents the possibility of reaching something more within himself. But James’s optimism tanks when he and Maria head to his apartment. Chapter 15 opens with James’s inner dialogue as he realizes “this girl isn’t going to give him the adventure in personal growth, or at least the cool story, that he was sort of hoping for.”

When I wrote my first essay on Giovanni’s Room, I explored the idea of whether or not the self can be sought externally. To this day, I believe James Baldwin argued that we cannot seek the solution to our questions of identity anywhere else but internally. This is to say that we, like David, will be the same person whether we are in the United States or in a shitty apartment in Paris.

It seems to me, at least at this point, that Binnie is conveying this same notion. In New York, Maria couldn’t get a grip on her dormant emotions or passivity, and she hasn’t yet been able to do so in Nevada either.

As I side note, I do agree with James’s blog post to a certain extent, and I think the questions he’s raised about whether manic pixie dream girls exist through their images presented to us or to other characters is pretty interesting. To me, Maria was somewhat of an atypical manic pixie dream girl to James (the character) because she gave to him a face or an embodiment of an identity that had long evaded him. But the more time Maria and James spend together, the more the novelty wears off.

So I guess I’d like to pose these questions:

How much of ourselves can we ‘find’ in being somewhere else?

Where do Maria and James go from here? I guess this question also relates to James’s question of why James/what is his role. How much can they do for each other? Will they be good for each other? (I don’t mean romantically)

Do you think the bleakness of Star City is meant to juxtapose the grandiose of New York? If so, do you think this has any larger significance?

Maria as a Trans Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

In James’ life, Maria drops in as a strange brightly colored punk creature in the Walmart where James works. Maria seems set to completely change James’ life. Almost immediately upon meeting each other, they both consciously and unconsciously recognize each other as trans. If Maria acts as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl set to upend James’ life for the better, she seems to be a clever subversion of it.

We spend the first half of the novel learning about Maria’s entire life and her relationships only to be quickly introduced to an entirely new important character in James. To James then, Maria is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl set to change his life for the better. To the reader however, Maria is a well established character that is well fleshed out, not just a shallow method to change the protagonist’s life. This poses the question about the description of Manic Pixie Dream Girls: are they described as to how the reader sees them or how a character sees them? This also raises for me questions about James as a character. What is his relation to Maria and the novel as a whole?

Questions:

  1. How would you describe James’s character role in the book so far? Would you consider him a supporting character or possibly a deuteragonist with Maria?
  2. Is Maria poised to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for James? Why or why not?

Punk and Performance

Maria seems to be obsessed with her image as a punk rocker, with so much of her thought processes forming around how best to convey her anti-authoritarianism. She views the world around her in terms of the atmospheric impression she gets from it. One bar is too fake, another cafe too trendy, this one just the right amount of grimy and real. She even maps out her own irresponsibility consciously. However, in the quest for “realness” to fit her punk persona, she seems to participate in a lot of performance. She addresses this herself when she says, “It’s a problem, you grow up reading about punk and grunge and earnest dude rock in all the magazines and internalizing the idea that artifice is totally bullshit, man, and we wear these clothes because they’re comfortable, not for any kind of fashion statement, and we’re just trying to communicate, not be cool” (123-124). But Maria spends so much of her time mapping out the perfect way to be punk rock (cussing, but not on a shirt because thats “totally unproductive teenage rebellion”), that her search for authenticity feels false. Even Steph calls her on her pretense: “She talks a lot about punk rock this and punk rock that but Maria’s never been in a band, never collected vinyl, never been to a political protest, never even had a stupid haircut” (118). We can trace the history of punk back to the 70s as a reaction against rock n roll culture at the time. The editor of Punk magazine John Holmstrom sums it up by saying “punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that [acts] like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to me and other fans, rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music.” By the late 70s, what started as a reactionary music culture with bands like the Sex Pistols, Clash, and the Ramones spread into an entire subculture of distinctive clothing and rebellious attitudes. This puts Maria at an awkward intersection where she consciously tries to defy performance but also has to perform gender on a daily basis.

  • How does Maria’s punk rock identity interact with her emotional distance and dissociation?
  • In what ways does Maria use performance as a form of defense?

Irony rules.

“It’s not even ironic. Poison Rules.” (p.13)

Maria is crusty, callous, and confusing. Her personality is a fruit salad, if the fruit salad were made of pills and eyeliner and coffee beans drenched in sadness. And if the fruit salad were on an island, alone, in the middle of the ocean. Probably. Both Maria and the Narrator define her as kind of asshole-ish and shut off from other people. But as we, the reader become more familiar with Maria, we start to notice that she actually feels quite a lot. And she feels it deeply. Ironic, huh?

You know what else is ironic? Steph and Kieran’s little stunt. That’s not verbal irony like Maria and the Narrator’s misdiagnoses of her personality. This is both situational and dramatic irony. Now, as types of irony might not be on the forefront of your mind at all times, and since everything reminds Maria of high school, let’s take it back to high school and have a little lesson on irony.

Verbal irony: the use of words to mean something different from what a person actually says.

Dramatic irony: when the audience is aware of something that the characters in the story are not aware of.

Situational irony: when the exact opposite of what is meant to happen, happens.

(http://typesofirony.com/the-3-types-of-irony/)

I think that irony is in Maria’s nature, and the narrator definitely has a somewhat dry sense of humour. This novel is riddled with apparent sarcasm, but what if it’s not all genuine? What if Maria is actually as sensitive as the callousness of her exterior leads you to believe? Sure, she says “heroin rules” like she would do a line every week if she could, but she also writes in her journal “Piranha is on heroin” like she is actually extremely concerned for her friend’s physical and emotional well being. Maria is locked up inside her head, and perhaps verbal irony is one of the tools she uses to protect herself and further distance herself from making genuine human connections.

Questions:

What role does irony play in this book for you as a reader? How does it affect your interpretation of the narrative and your judgement of Maria as a character?

Does the voice of the narrator increase your understanding of Maria’s callousness, and do you think that she is a sensitive person underneath it all, or is the shell actually solid?

Is Third Person More Personal?

The thing that struck me the most about this reading is the amazing way that the author portrays the life and character of Maria through a third person perspective. Though most books we have read have been in first person in order to give us the internal monologue of the character, Imogen Binnie’s third person perspective does not diminish those benefits. Despite the seemingly more distant way of speaking in the third person, Maria’s internal monologue is still very much apparent. We can see her confusion, pain, and sarcasm in every word. The first chapters are a masterpiece because they give so much insight into the internal workings of Maria while still describing the other people and environment in enough detail to really give the reader a good idea of all the story’s components. Marias conflicting feelings of being normal and her intense sarcasm and cynicism for the world she lives in shines through the text and the things she says. Speaking of which, it is of interesting note that the author does not actually use any quotation marks in their dialogue. This seems to open up the flow of speech in the novel by streamlining both the punctuation and the structure, as dialogue is folded right into every paragraph. Because of the dissonance between the book’s extremely blunt and straightforward subject matter and the new style of writing Binnie uses, Nevada serves as a unique example of modern gay literature.

Given that Binnie’s writing style struck out so much to me, my questions are as follows:

  1. What are some assumptions we have about first person and third person perspectives in writing? What feelings does Binnie convey about Maria by using third person language? How distant is the text made to feel from the story’s meaning?
  2. Does Maria seem distant from the reader, as well as from herself and her friends? What purpose does this serve in the telling of her story?