As Benny’s journey nears its end in West of Wawa by Lisa de Nikolits (from page 198 on), Stacy, Alex and I discuss this messed-up character’s steps towards self-actualization in the third and final part of our chat. Does Benny have the strength to break free from her self-medicating routine and her desire for bad boys? Is she really on the road to recovery?
Alex: So Benny made it to Vancouver.
Laurie: Would you say she’s a redeemed character?
Alex: I was relieved she kicked the prescription drugs down a notch, and I liked the empowering metaphors.
Stacy: She is. I’ve liked her more and more, and she made those phone calls to Kenny and her parents.
Laurie: It was so funny when she was thinking to herself: Do I really take that many drugs?
Alex: I know! She was really growing and facing things more.
Stacy: She seems to have found balance —sometimes junk is OK, sometimes you want greens. Sometimes you want to cut back on the hash…
Alex: Haha. It was an interesting twist that her husband was gay.
Laurie: Her taste in men was so questionable, and I’m not particularly referring to Kenny.
Alex: I liked that because it explained her anger towards him and I wasn’t expecting it at all.
Stacy: I’m so glad she brushed off that well-dressed businessman. He gave off creepy vibes.
Alex: But she still went to his hotel room!
Laurie: Yeah, it was weird, that whole clothes thing and limo scene.
Alex: She is a total fruitcake.
Stacy: But, baby steps!
Laurie: She had seriously bad instincts. Sean Connery was the better choice I think, with his drippy tent.
Alex: In that respect, I could not believe it when she kept saying “Yeah, OK, I’ll come to your house with you, stranger.”
Laurie: I know! Who does that? And then she was basically date-raped.
Stacy: And she never learned. Even after being date-raped, she still did it.
Alex: She never seemed to put two and two together and actually realize that’s what happened. It was kind of unresolved to a certain degree.
Stacy: That’s beyond trusting. That’s dumb.
Alex: I liked how she smashed up Mickey’s phone and bought a new shirt. Those were poignant and liberating moments.
Stacy: And gave away Monkey Man.
Laurie: And called Kenny, let that anger all go, made peace with him and her art and her abilities in that regard. And just stop caring so much.
Alex: Yeah, it was nice to have that picture filled in after having gotten to know her a bit better.
Stacy: She had this gigantic metamorphosis in the last bit — do you think that rang true?
Alex: It was a bit fast but I liked some of the ways it was portrayed — like how she finally made what felt like a good friendship and it happened to be one in which she was the stronger person.
Laurie: She went through such emotional turmoil in those days that I think she finally realized what was important and what wasn’t.
Stacy: I actually didn’t notice while reading that it was going by fast, but now that we’re talking about it, I realized she changed a lot in the last 60 pages or so of the book. Like suddenly all those lessons we wanted her to learn throughout just clicked. And I loved how she kept track of the distance
Alex: She recounted that and it was like a symbol of how far she had come, personally, and so I was fairly prepared for those personal realizations to be communicated.
Laurie: I think that’s why it didn’t feel too fast: because of the journey and the distance, so much had happened —so much covered in terms of distance and experience if not actual time.
Alex: I have a theory that you can slow down time by coming out of your comfort zone. It felt that way to me when I arrived here in Canada. You’re so overwhelmed by your observations that every moment is so full.
Laurie: Packing a whole lot of living into a short amount of time — I think that can be done.
Alex: And so it makes perfect sense that there’s an element of time sort of bending and stretching. (There’s the time travel connection!)
Laurie: Now I want to travel somewhere and get away!
Alex: It’s great to have a book that’s not about luxury travel but still paints a beautiful picture of this country and all the adventure you can have. I have to say though, the he/she/they/it speaking to her — that’s not so much my thing.
Stacy: Oh! You know what that reminded me of? Elizabeth Gilbert’s big spiritual revelation in Eat, Pray, Love. I think those things might happen in real life, but when you write about it, it can’t help but come off as a little kooky.
Alex: It just seemed a little odd because she didn’t seem religious before.
Laurie: I liked the sense of it as a wonder of the world thing, and maybe that was just her coming back to herself and finding a centre to things (speaking as a totally non-religious person) and feeling not so isolated.
Alex: Or destructive.
Stacy: Maybe we’re not really supposed to take it literally (that a higher power talked to her) but metaphorically.
Alex: Yeah. Those kinds of things can be hard to express.
Laurie: I like, too, that the book didn’t end with her with a man.
Alex: Me too. I loved that she had a friend to begin a life with.
Stacy: As opposed to mooning over Mickey.
Laurie: She’s just strong and on her own, but not alone.
Stacy: Exactly, LG! Or constantly on the lookout for the next guy.
Alex: From the get-go, both Benny and Crystal are a little flawed and facing up to life’s challenges — it’s real life, well, the fictional kind.
Stacy: I liked when Crystal said she was done with the gloves. That felt like progress for her, too.
Alex: I was very impressed by the story in the end, even if in places I had issues with the narrative.
Stacy: Me, too.
Laurie: I agree. I really liked Benny as a character and what the story had to say about persevering through difficulty.
Stacy: Before, I’m not sure I would have thought a book set mostly in various buses would be as gripping, but I was so drawn in by Benny (even when she frustrated me). And I can’t get over how amazing it was to read about someone experiencing Canada that way.
Alex: I liked the way she was taking charge of her life physically and that helped her take charge emotionally. She really seemed to get a grip on who she was after Sheldon said she was lying to herself about who she was.
Laurie: She realized exactly that. And saw how ridiculous it all was, and how freaking hard it had all been to hold on to some illusion.
Alex: Everyone she met on the trip served a purpose — just like in life.
Laurie: So typically coming-of-age with all the rites of passage.
Alex: And catalysts of people and places.
Stacy: Interesting to have a coming-of-age book set at the end of your 20s….
Laurie: People are growing up later and later or wanting to delay adulthood later and later. I think people spend their whole lives growing up. Or at least feeling young and like they’re learning.
Alex: I like that quote LG — “people spend their whole lives growing up.”
Stacy: Me too. It’s comforting, too — that “growing up” doesn’t have a due date, you can’t do it wrong, it’s just the process of living.
Laurie: A journey — a bus journey!
Stacy: Benny as a character was challenging, but her journey was compelling.
Alex: You nailed it.
Laurie: Agreed! And as we leave Wawa behind, we look forward to our next read, Hillary Jordan’s dystopian tale When She Woke, with our chats about that beginning the second week of October.
Stacy: Ladies, I am so excited to talk about When She Woke with you both.
Alex: Looking forward to it!