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: …
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.
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.!