Imogen Binnie
published in 2013
written 22 jun 2024

there's little that ties it down and makes it contemplative, which is exactly the point, i suppose. not that there aren't deeper, important messages; one that Binnie herself has mentioned as being a fault in Maria's character is of intellectualizing her struggles instead of finding an emotional reverberance with those around her. and if anything, that might be the greatest takeaway of this wildly paced (but still well-keyed) novel on what to me is a near-mythologized trans, white-but-cognizant-of-privileges-and-others'-lack-of-awareness NYC experience.

that angle of intellectualizing—one that i especially acknowledge as frustrating, with its characters being so brazen at points—is one that rears its head even more uncomfortably in its second part. in the process of switching to an unfamiliar face, the occasional lack of prescience on Maria's behalf towards James's own self-destructive habits and internalized negativity is a mirror created to contrast the two. it's observed but rarely dealt with by the characters.

yet what keeps the novel's lifeblood running so caustically is often how unforgivingly irreverent the inner monologues and outward dialogues can be. the interplay and crumbling of Maria's relationship with Steph is both measuredly careful in describing manic episodes and vital in realizing how they're perceived by two different subjects. and as much as there can be undue criticism leveled by many characters present, their fictionalized imperfections resonate simply as being 'real' in that cliché, imperfect-but-totally-working-on-it sort of way; they're not always even likable, but the punk-ish attitudes of especially Maria, as much as it leans towards being self-aggrandizing, is another aspect of a sage-like annoyance that comes with not having good outlets, good back-and-forths, good connections.

the narrative halves and how abruptly the curtains fall, completely dejected, is another mirror to face. it is a cheerless ending, an in-progress 'failure' that both characters fizzle out into the ether. it may be the novel's greatest strength, how thoroughly it analyzed, picked apart, and tore down so many aspects of so many lives, and then left it so unfurled and inconclusive in closing. the novel is infinite then, in its aching start of loveless thought and prickling agitation with one's sexuality and social presence, one that never cuts but instead fades before the 'rest' of the story can be told.

maybe it's just an enduring, ongoing story for many, one that can serve as a self-insert quite adeptly. an ugly world is one which grants no definitive ending without knowing it is, right now, about to end completely—and that's the final mirror the novel provides, just as this world does.

flat 4 / 5
created by hand, by nat!

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