Meeting Benny in part one of Lisa de Nikolit's West of Wawa

In Lisa de Nikolits’s West of Wawa, we travel with anxious, self-medicating heroine Benny as she journeys across Canada in an attempt to find peace, love and happiness. Here are our thoughts on part one.

west of wawa

In Lisa de Nikolits’s West of Wawa, Stacy, Alex and I travel along with anxious, self-medicating heroine Benny as she journeys across Canada in an attempt to find peace, love and happiness. But Benny’s road trip has more than a few bumps — and pleasant surprises — along the way. In this chat, our trek takes us up to page 118.

Laurie: Welcome to West of Wawa.

Alex: Ah, Benny….

Stacy: Yes, Miss Bertha Gertrude. How do you ladies feel about her? I can’t decide if I like her or if she (and her codeine!) frustrates me too much.

Laurie: Could Bertha be a worse name?

Stacy: Haha, I know. Incredibly poor choice. Don’t do that to your children, people!

Laurie: I like her, but wow, tons of pill-popping!

Stacy: Yeah, the self-medicating is intense.

Alex: I don’t really know where to start with her. I feel like I’m being brainwashed against junk food and encouraged to take meds.

Laurie: Exactly! Her logic is insane.

Stacy: And Southern Comfort – don’t forget the Southern Comfort. I do find it interesting how often Kenny the Ex shows up in her head. She’s been a bit brainwashed herself, I think.

Laurie: No processed cheese, but processed chemicals? Bring them on!

Alex: Yeah! It’s so bizarre that someone could have such an obsession with nutrition and such a penchant for Southern Comfort and pills.

Stacy: Maybe the pills are high-vibratory? (Which, by the way, sounds quite dirty.)

Laurie: And it’s a form of control. Like anorexia.

Alex: And the freaking salads with no dressing. It is anorexia. Every page says something about what she ate.

Stacy: Like the moment with the Timbit – it’s her first conscious act of rebellion, and she rebels more and more from there. Cigarettes, coffee…

Alex: Yeah. At times I felt it read like her journal of consumption, which bothered me. But now I think about it, I think that shows how preoccupied her mind is.

Laurie: The further along the road she goes, the more she relinquishes control. I find her charming, though, despite the drugs.

Alex: In some ways I would like to read this as a first person narrative. Because those people who develop those control mechanisms are often very private.

Laurie: It keeps her from thinking about things.

Stacy: You can see it in her sleeping, too – the part where she says 8:30 a.m. is too early for a tour, and how odd that is coming from someone who used to be at work at 6:30 a.m.

Alex: I want to know how aware she is that she has those habits.

Laurie: I think quite unaware in many ways. And work, too, Eli essentially says she’s addicted to work and she realizes he’s right.

Alex: She’s definitely loosening up but, yes, oblivious to how uptight she has become in order to manage her life.

Stacy: I do think she has some great moments of self-awareness, though. She often questions why Kenny is showing up in her head.

Laurie: True, but that’s a progression.

Alex: Yeah. I could really relate to that.

Laurie: The more miles under her belt, the more self-awareness.

Alex: And it’s like now she’s hearing the voice she can actually question it.

Stacy: I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s like as she edges further west. I feel like we’re going to see her become more and more herself.

Alex: It’s making me want to travel!

Stacy: Me too. I’ve always wanted to see more of Canada, but I really want to now.

Alex: But my codeine, sleeping pills and Southern Comfort all comes in one bottle: red wine.

Stacy: I’m more of a white wine kinda girl, but otherwise I’m with ya!

Laurie: No mini bottles for you!

Alex: Nope! I did it once on the Greyhound from New York – emptied a whole bottle into a slushee cup.

Stacy: Travel tips! I like it!

Laurie: Why am I surprised! Okay, the bus travel sounds kinda horrific. I like road trips, but prefer my own car. Or a friend’s. With someone else driving.

Stacy: Yeah, I want to see the country, but not on a bus. Ick.

Alex: But there’s something romantic in roughing it! And the people-watching.

Stacy: I am not a roughing it kind of girl, so my own car it is. But the whole sense of community with the long-haulers is totally interesting.

Alex: I like the idea of the relationships Benny builds with people.

Laurie: But she isolates herself, with her T-shirts and sunglasses and black.

Stacy: She doesn’t necessarily want to connect with others, but she doesn’t want other people encroaching.

Alex: Yeah. She’s not fully into the idea, is she?

Laurie: She only wants relationships on her terms.

Stacy: Like with Eli.

Laurie: And she likes the wounded bad boys.

Alex: And it’s the same with her folks and sis. She’s distanced herself and continually does so even more by her communication.

Laurie: She put a whole lot of miles between her family and herself.

Alex: I like the email interspersed with the text. I find the subheads take a bit of getting used to. I’ve never seen anything quite like that. I felt weird about it but then got used to it.

Laurie: It is odd, isn’t it? I found it disconcerting at first.

Alex: It’s like she’s writing a magazine.

Stacy: I was just going to say that! It reminds me of our life section in Chatelaine. I didn’t quite get them at first. But I’ve grown to like them… they’re quite whimsical.

Laurie: Episodic, TV like.

Alex: At the beginning it was a tad insulting in a way – I can figure out what the paragraph is about. I guess it’s more reflective of the style of reading the majority of people are used to today, i.e., short and long forms mixed together à la the internet. I got used to the interruption in the end, but that’s what it was for me.

Laurie: Some of the subheads are very funny: Opiate Fields of Cough Mixture Bliss – I want to read that!

Stacy: I think that’s more what they’re about – not necessarily to summarize what’s coming up, but to give a sense of place or mood.

Laurie: Would you rather traditional chapter breaks?

Alex: I don’t know. This setup was more instantly gratifying. It was a bit like having a tweet at the beginning of each section.

Stacy: I generally prefer more traditional chapter breaks, but didn’t mind.

Laurie: Have either of you ever wanted to run away?

Alex: I kind of did in a way, depending on who you speak to!

Stacy: I haven’t since I was very young.

Laurie: But they say you can’t actually escape yourself.

Alex: It’s a great theme: moving somewhere on your own to get through your baggage.

Laurie: Benny was more scared of staying. Of not working. Of being aware and awake.

Alex: She’s very driven, isn’t she?

Stacy: I think that’s kind of why the desire didn’t follow me into adulthood. What’s the point? The scenery might be different, but I’d still be there.

Laurie: Work is a drug for her, isn’t it? Just another drug…

Stacy: Exactly! It’s interesting how she sometimes replaces “unreal” drugs (work, health, vibratory whatevers) with more traditional ones (coffee, cigarettes, junk food).

Alex: Unrelated: …

Laurie: Sex?

Alex: Ha! She rushed that part with Eli. It was just like “They had sex.” That is practically what she wrote. What a waste of an opportunity!

Stacy: A real problem for our Alex, lol!

Alex: The build up was great, and then you give me that?

Laurie: Some day I will find us a good sex book!

Alex: Haha. True romance!

Laurie: Okay, sorry, what were you going to say?

Alex: I was actually going to say, being British and having a lot of the same vernacular I was tripped up a bit by the dialogue.

Laurie: Like what? Wawa?

Alex: I found words like Pukka that were big when I was like 15 really tripped me up because it felt like someone else using my words.

Laurie: I’ve never really heard it before, I don’t think.

Alex: And I don’t know if it’s because I’m British, but it kind of made me feel uncomfortable.

Stacy: I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. Wait, maybe Jamie Oliver’s said it before.

Alex: I actually found all the dialogue felt a bit stunted. Something was off about it, to me.

Stacy: Interesting. I feel almost the exact opposite when I see/hear Trinidadian vernacular in pop culture. Though I’ve never seen a word I associate with Trinidad said by a non-Trini, so maybe that’s why?

Alex: Exactly Stacy. That could be why.

Laurie: Hmmm. I don’t think I noticed that so much. Maybe because she was supposed to be Aussie… And Eli was just kinda weird.

Alex: I just didn’t find her Oziness 100 percent believable. Eli was weird.

Laurie: With his stupid Russian princess.

Stacy: I found him a bit annoying. One of those free love, I’m so cool types, but not genuinely so. He just wanted lots of girls to sleep with him with no entanglements

Alex: Yeah. Maybe I need to stop looking for something that feels 100 percent real.

Stacy: Not sure if you mean in terms of books etc., Alex, but I don’t think you should. I think we should expect realness. That’s the mark of good writing

Alex: Thank you! Great comparison between this one and the last book we discussed, Miss Timmins’s School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy. That’s what this is all about, and this is a new Canadian writer.

Stacy: Agree!

Laurie: Well, we shall see how the dialogue and Benny’s journey continue next week, west of Wawa.

Stacy: Sounds good! Until next week!

Alex: Until next week, and on to B.C.!