Sarah Gerard’s debut novel, Binary Star, gives a much-needed voice to women who suffer with anorexia. Written in an inventive style, Gerard’s narrative also sheds light on co-dependency, the kind of relationship where lovers feed off their partner’s addictions and pain, leaving nothing left of their interaction except ravaged souls—a union disintegrated by selfish needs that could never be met.
Bringing new dimension to the complexity of human interactions, Gerard’s new chapbook, BFF, plunges readers into her real-life account of a lifelong friendship between herself and another woman that suffered more than it should have. Young and sometimes reckless, it shows their pain, their love, and how strongly intertwined they were as they grew from little girls into the women they became. BFF is for everyone who felt misunderstood by someone whose validation they craved. BFF is for all the teenagers struggling because they think they’re outcasts. BFF goes out to everyone who mistakenly fears they don’t deserve to be loved. And it’s for all the parents afraid of failing.
Having the perspective to look back at the relationships that impacted you is a gift. Taking ownership of where you failed and the ability to see the other side, builds you into the person you deserve to be. Introspective. Self-aware. Emotionally generous. We’ve all written a letter we didn’t send. BFF is one that you’ll wish you had penned.
The Rumpus: You got a ton of press for Binary Star. What surprised you about the release?
Sarah Gerard: One of my exes thinks I based the character of John on him. That was interesting. I feel that it’s a pretty even-handed portrayal of a dysfunctional relationship.
Rumpus: No wonder why you broke up. What made him think that?
Gerard: I think that because he has a history of pill abuse he felt it was an unfair portrayal of his addiction. The protagonist gets to explain her behavior and I think he felt that the character of John didn’t get as much agency in the novel.
Rumpus: How’d you deal with it?
Gerard: I told him that I was sorry he felt that way. I was drawing very heavily about a time in my own life and looking for a character that would counterbalance the protagonist, which John does. And that I didn’t think it was a flattering portrayal of her either, so hopefully that helps some.
Rumpus: BFF, your new chapbook is riveting. It’s super relatable. Every girl growing up has that close friend who torments her as much as gives her joy. What propelled you to write BFF?
Gerard: Distance. It’s been three years since I’ve spoken to this person and she was a very important part of my development and becoming a woman. Her life became intertwined with mine in a way that was very difficult to see clearly after many years. At several points over the friendship I tried to create some distance and that was very painful for her. I think I needed some time away from her to see her point of view. This was an attempt at seeing her perspective. I do now. I see why she was so angry with me. I think in a selfish way I was also looking for room to explain myself.
Rumpus: When did things between you heighten to a bad place?
Gerard: When I moved to New York the distance between us became very palpable. My life changed in ways that neither of us anticipated. I had a lot less time for her and our friendship has always been one that is all-consuming.
My first two years in New York, she was going through a lot. And I didn’t have time to be there for her. She felt neglected and I felt misunderstood and unsupported. I had important things happening in my own life.
Rumpus: One thing that stands out with this character is that drama has been following her since her early days. She had a tough upbringing.
Gerard: She’s a very artistic person. We met in an arts program when we were ten. She wanted things that my family had and these things weren’t available to her. That wasn’t fair. I wasn’t aware of class differences. When my family moved into a new house when we were ten, she knew what it cost. She brought it up a couple of times.
Rumpus: Now that she’s an adult, you can make your own way. We’re not trapped.
Gerard: I don’t know if that’s true. I have been able to do certain things with my life that have afforded me the opportunity to do even more things with my life. Coming from the background that she’s from, she’s found herself in some unexpected situations that are hard to get out of.
Rumpus: How do you feel about her now in this moment?
Gerard: I feel like I failed our friendship. I feel like there was a lot I didn’t catch in time. There were many opportunities to be compassionate with her that I missed because I didn’t understand what she needed. And there were times where she wasn’t compassionate with me. And we both became really resentful. Which didn’t mean we didn’t love each other. Right up until the end we were very in love with each other.
Rumpus: What is your hope for BFF in relation to your friendship?
Gerard: I don’t know if I want her to read it. If she does I’m okay with that. My only hope in writing it was to find some closure. I blocked her on Facebook years ago and I unblocked her, wondering where she was and what she was up to and looking at her pictures, I was really affected by it. I think I realized that I needed to understand her. It’s really powerful watching a girl grow into a woman as another female. You feel like you’re bodily connected. People in general are really complicated, but women especially are complex.
Rumpus: We don’t realize as women how we inform each other’s self-esteem. There’s one point in the chapter when you both buy the same tank top and she tells you your shoulders are too broad to wear it. You write: “I still haven’t put it on.”
Gerard: (Laughs) We believe each other. She was the first person to tell me that I have a big ass, which I do.
Rumpus: Me too! How did you deal with it?
Gerard: Comedian John Mulaney has a joke that when teenagers criticize you it’s more painful because they do it accurately. All of the things she said to me were true. I just wasn’t prepared to hear them. I hadn’t built up a protective barrier of self-esteem. We spent all of our adult and preteen years together, the most formative of your life. We got our periods together. She had her first child. All of these significant life-changing moments happened with us together. Yet, I don’t think that either one of us at the time had a strong sense of self yet.
Rumpus: You never forget the things that were said to you in the seventh grade. Now matter how far you’ve come. How can people overcome the criticism?
Gerard: I would tell all girls to be nice to each other. I’m still friends with people I’ve known since I was two. Like, my best friend, Katie who lived across the street from me. We’ve been through all kinds of shit. But you learn to be patient with one and other. There are things about Katie that I learned as an adult that were happening all throughout our childhood. There’s so much you don’t know about your friends that inform their behavior. You’ll learn later that we as women need to stick together.