Free Culture Book Club — Nevada, part 5

Hi! You might want to know that this post continues ideas from the following.

This week, our Free Culture Book Club wraps up reading Nevada, part Two, chapter 22 to the end.

Pink flowers

To give this series some sense of organization, check out some basic facts without much in the way of context.

This should go without saying—even though I plan to repeat it with every Book Club installment—but Content Advisories do not suggest any sort of judgment on my part, only topics that come up in the work that I noticed and might benefit from a particular mood or head space for certain audiences. I provide it to help you make a decision, rather than a decision in and of itself.

Nevada 🔗

I can’t find any direct, Free-licensed information on this book but the Wikipedia article describes it as follows.

Nevada: A Novel is the debut novel from author Imogen Binnie, released by Topside Press in 2013. Nevada follows the story of Maria Griffiths, a trans woman living in Brooklyn, who embarks on a road trip headed towards the West Coast. In the years following its release, it has been credited by literary critic Stephanie Burt as having starting a transgender literary movement and inspiring authors such as Torrey Peters and Casey Plett.

It goes on to point out that it sold around ten thousand copies before Topside went out of business, leading fans to take on distribution duties until other companies have picked it up more recently.

I should note that we may or may not have a film adaptation coming, though the director recently left the project.

What Works Well? 🔗

Maria at least tries to push back on offensive stereotypes and ideas, calling out misogyny, at least to a certain qualified extent.

And while I wish that we had gotten here by a different and less irritating route, I respect that the story more or less ends in abject failure, with no closure or epiphanies for anybody. The characters don’t earn any progress, and don’t try to do any actual work to improve anything, so it makes a lot of sense for the story to fall apart. In particular, I said early on that many of my criticisms could evaporate if the book ultimately took a strong stand against its characters’ empty attitudes, so it gratifies me to see that pay off as a deliberate choice1.

Finally, I presumably said this in the first post on the book, but even though I found the writing and characters off-putting and broadly unpleasant, I do want to point out that I appreciate that the book exists at all. As mentioned in the introduction, Nevada inspired other authors to write their more successful books. The book helped people, and will surely continue to help people in the future2.

What Works…Less Well? 🔗

What do we mean by less well? Free Culture exists as a special kind of idea. By licensing a work appropriately, the creator gives each of us permission, authority, and power to make the work our own. This section tries to remind us all of that, by indicating areas of the project where you, dear reader, might consider it as an invitation to get involved with the project.
And yes, sometimes complains slip through, too…

The book still thinks that you’ll find it absolutely hilarious that the characters talk about how boring the characters and situations feel. And as we close out the book, trying to pretend that the author meant this to bore us doesn’t make the book more enjoyable. I mean, especially don’t have a character complain about the vapid monologues between vapid monologues. Or at least make the vapid monologues interesting for the reader…

Maybe related, the narration has developed a new verbal tic, following up almost every thought with a standalone sentence to say “Whatever,” as if the writing assignment had a minimum word count and this helped bump up the numbers. But somehow alongside this, we get internal monologue from James that deliberately and repeatedly misreads the situation, with no interaction that lets the book push back against that3.

Opportunities 🔗

Other than buying the book where available, I don’t see any means to contribute.

What’s Adaptable? 🔗

I didn’t catch any fictional names, other than the obscured doctor’s name that probably maps to a real person, too.

Next 🔗

Coming up next week, we’ll play Raiders of the Unix Seas, a data-exploration game in the vein of The Command-Line Murders.

As mentioned previously, by the way, the list of potential works to discuss has run low, so I need to ask for help, again. If you know of any works that fit these posts—fictional, contains some narrative, Free Culture, available to the public, and not by creators who we’ve already discussed—please tell me about them. Every person who points me to at least one appropriate work with an explanation will receive a free membership on my Buy Me a Coffee page. (By all means, promote your own work if relevant, or create something under an appropriate license for the purpose of promoting your own work.)

Anyway, while we wait for that, what did everybody else think about the book?

Credits: The header image is FLOWER 03 - PAINTBRUSH, sp (6-16-11) northeast Nevada by Alan Schmierer, released into the public domain by the photographer. The artist released the actual cover under a non-commercial license.

  1. To expand on that thought even though it veers more towards talking about my feelings about the novel than the novel itself, if I don’t like a work, I have no problem with that, and I don’t think that anybody should have a problem with their own preferences not matching anybody else’s. I have my personal tastes, and they won’t match everybody’s style. But the idea that the novel—especially since it probably qualifies as the most consequential work that we’ll talk about in these posts, as the forerunner of a modern literary movement—didn’t hold together bothered me. As such, seeing the narrative pull itself together so nicely with an anti-climax, but with characters that I happen to dislike immensely using prose flourishes that I despise, that I can deal with… 

  2. I want to also mention that I got through the boring stretches of this in the probably-not-Free-Culture audiobook, which includes a postscript by Binnie, where she describes the experimental aspects of Nevada, and where the overall structure comes from. And that helps me see the vision for the novel that we would have gotten if Binnie had more experience at the time. I don’t want to talk about it in the main body of the post, because I don’t see any evidence that they released the audio or the postscript under a public license, but the idea of James as a play on the thought experiment of “going back in time to help your younger self get through the ordeals ahead of them” makes the book feel much less pretentious and like more of an early draft that could improve dramatically in the right hands. 

  3. With the postscript, we can see that this happens because James parallels Maria in seeing every kind act as an attack, but I see no way of determining that reason from the text itself, because it doesn’t set any of that storytelling up. 

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