Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Roxane Gay is a badass. This was my very first thought when she came onto my radar. This was back in, oh, 2012, maybe? I was part of The Rumpus book club for over 2 years, and Roxane was a writer for the website Roxane Gay’s work while I was there. I knew of her from her essays and articles, but never really *knew* her until she popped into the book club discussions. There was a woman in the book club who drove met bat shit crazy. I will call this woman Batty. She was rude and condescending and just awful. And no one stood up to her. Until Roxane showed up. She, very directly and firmly, put this woman in her place. There were no words minced. And I cheered from behind my computer screen because FINALLY someone had the nerve and ability to do this task that I had secretly been begging someone to do. Batty was silenced. And it was beautiful. I knew from that minute that Roxane Gay was a badass. Let me be perfectly clear. She still is a badass.

Back then during the Batty takedown, I had no idea what Roxane looked like. Not one clue. When her book An Untamed State came out, I finally saw pictures of her attached to her reviews and realized she is black. Okay. Got it. No problem. But it truly wasn’t until this book was released and subsequent podcasts, reviews, interviews, etc that I realized that Roxane is fat (her words). Clinically, she is “super morbidly obese.” And after reading this book in a matter of hours, I stand by my original statement that she is a badass.

It is perfectly clear that Roxane doesn’t want pity for her body. Because her body doesn’t reflect who she is deep down. Or it does. (stealing a bit of her writing style here) She is more than her body. Aren’t we all. But living life with her body isn’t just a challenge. It is an all encompassing every minute of every day challenge. There are things in life she deals with that aren’t even on the radar of other people. Roxane doesn’t fit neatly into a mold of what society feels a woman should look like. She is also 6’3″, which provides its own challenges, of course. But her weight is what this book mainly focuses on.

And, as she puts it, there is a before and after in her life. Before a certain event (which I will not tell here. It is much too personal of a story for her. It is her story. Not mine) she was happy, shy but friendly, typical girl growing up in the Midwest. Her family loved her. She was supported. Then the terrible thing happened and she changed. Her world changed. Her life changed. And her body changed. She ate to escape the pain. She ate to make herself bigger so people wouldn’t want her. She ate and ate and ate and tried her best to hide her sadness, blaming herself for everything. Deep down parts of that girl still live inside her, shouting from the depths “You aren’t worthy. You don’t deserve love. You are fat. You are ugly.” Her internal monologue is brutal to read. Absolutely heartbreaking. Because Roxane is a badass. And not just because she took down someone who drove me crazy. But because she is authentic. Because she is true. Because she is real. Because she is healing. Because she is human.

I am not a writer. I don’t even pretend to be any form of writer, even in these reviews. So I know I’m not doing justice to her as a writer or her book, and I apologize for that. However, let me make this as clear as I can. Every woman should read this book. Not just women who society has labeled because of their weight. Not just women who look in the mirror and view themselves negatively. Not just women who avoid mirrors at all. Not just women who struggle with finding clothes that fit. Each and every woman. Because Roxane speaks to us all. Our insecurities, our need to be loved and accepted, our desire to be seen for who we are on the inside and not judged by our outsides. Thank you for this book, Roxane, and thank you for being a badass.

The Instructions

Back in 2010, I was a member of The Rumpus Book Club. We were a small group of close-knit people who had a love of books in common. We had never met but formed lasting friendships over our shared interest. I still keep in touch with many of them via social media. Many of us have moved on from the book club (time and money prevented me from staying) but the book club still exists. For $27/month you get a book sent to you every month. You get to read the book together, discuss via a message board, and interact with the author in a Q&A. And the books they select are fantastic. I was one of the first people to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed because of the book club. Fun fact: Strayed was Dear Sugar on therumpus.net for quite some time. Here’s a link to the Book Club if you are interested.

We were warned by our book club editor, Isaac Fitzgerald, (now the Buzzfeed books editor) that we were going to receive a monster book for one of our selections. Shipping was taking longer than usual because the book was gigantic. The only buzz we knew about the book, other than its size, was that it was published by McSweeneys, and involved pennyguns. Intriguing, right? Little did we know the epic we were about to encounter.

The story covers 4 days in the life of Gurion Maccabee, a 10 year old in a Cage program in a Chicago middle school. Gurion may or may not be the messiah, by the way. He is in the Cage program because he has been expelled from other schools and is viewed to be a danger to himself and others. He immediately makes friends with the other Cagers and this is where the story picks up. In these four days, Gurion falls in love with Eliza June Watermark, destroys school property, breaks the heart of another girl, breaks up various fights between friends, starts fights with other friends, loses a best friend, regains a best friend, and aquires a following of Scholars.

Gurion is an Israelite. The religion in the book is woven through in a variety of ways. Not only is Gurion deeply religious, so are many of his followers, especially in the belief that Gurion is the messiah. Gurion never actually states that he is, but he never dismisses it either. And then comes the 11/17 Miracle. This book is over 1000 pages. And, because of the binding and the thickness of the paper, it’s also the biggest book I own. And you spend 800+ pages before getting to 11/17.

The story is written in a unique way. The author, Adam Levin, doesn’t always use quotation marks, so this takes some getting used to. But once you do, the book becomes easier to manage. Over the course of the four days, you get to know Gurion (1st person narrator) well. You learn his wants, needs, passions, and brilliance. To say Gurion is a genius is a mixed bag. He certainly is, but he also causes so much disturbance and emotional trauma to those around him, that he is hard to sympathize with.

There’s no way for me to explain how much I love this book. Even the second time around, the book holds up. There is something lost knowing what the 11/17 Miracle is before you even start the book, but you also go into it loving the characters already. If anyone knows how to contact Adam Levin, please tell him how much I love this book. Gurion is such a rich character. I used to teach gifted and talented kids so Gurion spoke to me on a level that few characters ever do. So, thank you, Mr. Levin, for bringing Gurion to life. WE DAMAGE WE