Book review: Nevada, by Imogen Binnie

nevada coverBinnie, Imogen. Nevada. Topside Press. 2013. $17.95. 262p. PB. 978-0983242239.

In Nevada, Imogen Binnie’s debut novel, the reader is taken deep inside the mind of Maria, a 29-year-old queer, trans woman living in contemporary Brooklyn. She spends a lot of her time thinking about all of the negative stereotypes and perceptions that trans women face and how that affects their lives, which in Maria’s case has left her at the “tween stage” of her emotional development. Maria, a punked-out, bike-riding, bookstore-working slacker with a penchant for thinking whatever at life’s big and little hiccups, defies stereotypes. She left her small town roots and transitioned years ago but is now facing, perhaps, an even more perplexing situation–life after transitioning.

The novel begins with a sex scene between Maria and her girlfriend, where faking it has become the norm, much like in the rest of Maria’s life, which has been unraveling for a while. The girlfriend and the job are giving up on her, but Maria hasn’t noticed–that is, until a series of events force Maria out of her head and into action. She “borrows” her girlfriend’s car and hits the road, heading for some vague notion of a fresh start and an embrace of irresponsibility.

Nevada is also the story of James, a closeted trans woman (or so Maria thinks) who she meets in a podunk town in Nevada, where Maria ends up after driving cross-country from Brooklyn. James, younger than Maria by a decade, seems to offer Maria the chance to do something good, something meaningful, when she spots him working in Wal-Mart and instantly knows that he’s trans. How isn’t explained, but it’s presumably because of something about James’ awkward presentation that Maria recognizes from her younger self. James doesn’t easily conform to Maria’s assumptions about him, showing even the worldly, experienced Maria, and the reader, the great variety of trans identities and presentations.

The novel’s abrupt jump to focusing on James in Part 2 is jarring, just as the reader is getting comfortable inside Maria’s head and wants to find out where it’s all leading. It also feels a little too obviously like Trans 101 as Maria schools James on what it means to be trans.

Nevertheless, Nevada is a fierce new addition to literature with its self-deprecating humor, wry observations about contemporary life, and Maria’s neurotic self-determination. Nevada will be a welcome addition to any public library’s fiction collection.

Reviewer: Kevin Coleman
Librarian, Alameda Free Library

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