Binary Star, a short, intense novel by Sarah Gerard, covers the relationship between an anorexic, unnamed, female narrator and John, her alcoholic boyfriend. It’s comprised of short sentences and lists, as well as descriptions of astronomic events — hence the binary star of the title. Gerard relates the narrator’s eating disorder with unflinching directness, and as events pile up, the novel’s downward trajectory becomes clear. The speed at which it moves is remarkable as well — while reading it I frequently had the impression that the book was somehow on fire, burning up before my eyes. Gerard’s essay at The New York Times is excellent as well and makes a fine companion to the novel.
Laura van den Berg’s Find Me is a magic trick. Its premise is simple: a plague ravages America, and Joy, the main character, is whisked off to a hospital that’s trying to find a cure. The set-up is simple but compelling, and there’s an almost thriller-like tension to the book despite any artificial drama. Van den Berg skillfully renders Joy’s minimal, aching voice as she describes trying to find the mother who abandoned her. She also transfers her careful eye for detail from the short story to the novel — I’m always amazed when a writer is able to work in both worlds. You can read a fine interview with her at The Rumpus.