Nov­el­ist: ‘This is not a weight-loss mem­oir’

Rox­ane Gay has a vivid, tele­graphic writing style

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - BOOKS -

At her heav­i­est, Rox­ane Gay weighed 577 pounds. In her pow­er­ful, at times har­row­ing, new mem­oir, Hunger, Gay ex­plains how she got that way and what it’s like to live “trapped in a cage” of her own mak­ing.

It’s the story of a “care­free young girl ... who felt safe in her body” un­til she was “gan­graped by a boy I thought I loved and a group of his friends.” Then she “ate and ate and ate to build my body into a fortress,” which com­forted her in the mo­ment but failed to ad­dress “this cav­ern of lone­li­ness in­side me that I have spent my whole life try­ing to fill.”

On one level Hunger is a straight-up mem­oir, the story of a shy, stu­dious girl, the beloved daugh­ter of Haitian im­mi­grants, who en­dures a hu­mil­i­at­ing ado­les­cence, an emo­tional break­down in col­lege and the “lost years” of her 20s when “I spent most of my wak­ing hours on­line, talk­ing to strangers.”

There she finds fo­rums for rape and sex­ual abuse sur­vivors, as well as cha­t­rooms for peo­ple into BDSM (bondage, sub­mis­sion and sado­masochism). Next comes a series of dead-end jobs, a re­turn to school and even­tual suc­cess as a writer.

While sketch­ing the broad out­lines of her life, Gay, who is now in her early 40s, also de­liv­ers a fierce polemic about what it means to live in a mor­bidly obese black body in a so­ci­ety that wor­ships thin­ness, white­ness and fit­ness, es­pe­cially for women.

A nov­el­ist, cul­tural critic and pro­fes­sor best known for the 2014 es­say col­lec­tion Bad Fem­i­nist, Gay has a vivid, tele­graphic writing style, which serves her well. Repet­i­tive and re­cur­sive, it pro­pels the reader for­ward with un­stop­pable force even though we know there will be no con­ven­tion­ally happy end­ing.

“This is not a weight-loss mem­oir,” she warns read­ers at the out­set. “I don’t have any pow­er­ful in­sight into what it takes to over­come an un­ruly body and un­ruly ap­petites.”

Con­trib­uted

Rox­ane Gay dishes on the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, which she blasts for treat­ing fat­ness as patho­log­i­cal.

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