Nevada by Imogen Binnie is about Maria Griffiths, a trans woman living in Brooklyn, NY, who finds herself disenchanted with life. Unsure of how to cope with her new circumstances, Maria steals her ex girlfriend’s car to go on a road trip where she hopes to ‘find herself.’ On the way, Maria meets James in Nevada, who’s struggling with gender dysphoria, who joins her on the road trip. While trying to help James come to terms with the possibility they might be trans too, Maria is able to look at her own situation with the hopes of coming to a life-changing realisation.
Maria is an amazing character to read. She’s funny and smart, but she’s also chaotic and dark and so trapped inside her own head it makes my heart ache. At the beginning of the book, we see Maria having lunch with her girlfriend, who chooses that moment to confess that she’d cheated on Maria with one of her co-workers. Thanks to the third-person limited narrative in the present tense, we see the situation unfold from a removed standpoint, close enough to observe but not close enough to get every little thought and emotion of one or both of the characters. I feel like this narrative choice was on purpose as Maria is very disassociated from herself and others around her.
“Then Maria’s brain goes into full shutdown in this way where she’s still there, still watching, wishing there were something to say, but really all she can think is, okay, whatever…she thinks maybe I need to leave. But she can’t leave, you can’t just bail on your girlfriend in the middle of brunch…She knows, though, that she’s supposed to be thinking about Kieran and Steph in a broom closet.”
Her experiences of constantly trying to mould and fit herself into what society thinks she should have been before and during her transition have resulted in her being very removed from anything which could physically or emotionally hurt her.
“I’m sorry, she always thinks, I learned to police myself pretty fiercely when I was a tiny little baby, internalizing social norms and trying to keep myself safe from them at the same time. I’m pretty astute with the keeping myself safe.”
Another noticeable tool the book uses aside from narrative is the dialogue structure. Throughout the book there are absolutely no speech marks, and instead the dialogue is mixed in with the narration and internal monologues. Even when dialogue tags are used, they’re similarly buried within the narrative.
“Jesus Kieran, she says
Deep in thought, right? he asks
I guess so.
Do you want to get a beer? I seriously want to talk to you.
No, Maria says, I’m going home.”
This dialogue style is uncommon but perfect for this novel, as it gives the reader a sense of distance and almost confusion, in the same way Maria often feels when talking to other characters. Whenever Maria talks to someone, her thoughts and speech blend in with her own internal thoughts as well as the speech of the other characters, giving the sensation of not knowing nor caring where an idea or thought comes from. This perfectly depicts dissociation or being ‘checked out,’ something which Maria’s character in particular intensely struggles with.
This narrative style also enhances Maria’s internal monologues. This is something I do a lot, constantly go off on internal tangents or rants inside my brain and then I just talk to continue my thought process, forgetting that those around me aren’t privy to whatever thoughts I was just having. Maria particularly likes to have internal monologues about gender and queer theory, which is understandable since it’s such a huge part of her life and how she interacts with the world around her. Sometimes these monologues are funny, such as: “Eventually you can’t help but figure out that, while gender is a construct, so is a traffic light, and if you ignore either of them, you get hit by cars. Which, also, are constructs.”
However, some of the monologues are a bit dark and cutting: “Nobody really wants to be a trans woman, i.e. nobody wakes up and goes whoa, maybe my life would be better if I transitioned, alienating most of my friends and my family, I wonder what’ll happen at work, I’d love too spend all my money on hormones and surgeries, buying a new wardrobe that I don’t even understand right now, probably become unloveable and then ending my short life in a bloody murder.”
Either way, the effectiveness of including these monologues is clear, as buried within them is Maria’s pain and fears which she usually tried to keep locked away from everyone, even herself.
The ending of the novel is by far my favourite. Maria is a huge bookworm and as such gets the idea in her head that the road trip is the cure-all to everything going on in her life. You can see where she gets this, as she’s a huge fan of the ‘Great American Novel’ where the characters have some kind of crisis and go on a journey of self discovery, coming out the otherside with clarity and hope, and sometimes even a love interest and a job. It’s like a literary magic wand for the characters’ problems. Oh look, poor Jimmy is struggling, let’s send him on a road trip across America! However, this book is perfect in how it handles this grand road trip because it solves nothing for Maria at all. Running away from your problems never works, as when you’re finished running you’ll find they were at best waiting for you for when you return, or at worst chasing you as you ran away. At the end of the book Maria has literally nothing figured out. All of her issues are still there and her attempts to mentor James into happiness have been fruitless. It’s the perfect ending to what is usually an overdone and over-idealistic trope and it matches the tone of the book perfectly.
This was the first time I had ever read a book with a trans person as the main character written by a trans author. The lack of proper and accurate representation in literature is something they have commented upon many times. Usually, it’s cis authors trying their hand at this topic, and while it’s good that authors explore writing and experiences out with their own life, the result is usually a teen coming-out story where everything is dark at first but so bright and hopeful at the end. Or worse, we get a cautionary tale of what happens when you think you’re trans and make that transition before realising you’re not. (I won’t name titles and point fingers, but the second option is one I’ve stumbled across more than once and it’s infuriating and damaging.) When I was browsing my local Waterstones and saw Nevada, I was a bit hesitant but ultimately decided to give the book a try, and am I glad I did. I feel I have a better understanding of some of the feelings and issues surrounding being trans and the book has even opened up some very frank and heartfelt conversations with my trans friends, all of whom had already read this book. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but especially to cis people who want to understand a bit more of what it feels like to be trans.