BOOK REVIEW: Hunger – A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

BOOK REVIEW: Hunger – A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Little, Brown Book Group
June 2017
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction/Literature, Poetry & Plays/Literary Essays

9/10

There aren’t many books that manage to completely disarm the reader. But Hunger – A Memoir of (My) Body isn’t like most books. Roxane Gay’s memoir about her body and how it is treated by today’s society as well as the trauma she sustained as a child makes for one searing and intense read.

Roxane Gay is an academic and the author of fiction and non-fiction works including the essay collection, Bad Feminist. She has briefly touched on the brutal gang rape she sustained at the age of 12 in some of her previous writing, but it is in Hunger that she grapples with this assault in more detail and tries to make sense of it in light of her subsequent experiences in life.

What you need to know is that my life is split in two, cleaved not so neatly. There is the before and the after. Before I gained weight. After I gained weight. Before I was raped. After I was raped.

This memoir is Roxane’s personal story, in which she describes her happy and comfortable childhood as the daughter of Haitian immigrant parents and living in Nebraska. She was a good girl who strived to achieve impressive results. She was also someone who loved to write from an early age.

There is a picture of me. I am five. I have big eyes and a scrawny neck. I am staring at a plastic typewriter while I lie on a couch, on my stomach, ankles crossed, probably daydreaming. I always daydreamed. Even then, I was a writer. From an early age, I would draw little villages on napkins and write stories about the people who lived in those villages. I loved the escape of writing those stories of imagining lives that were different from my own…When I wrote, it was so easy to be happy.

When Roxane was 12 she formed a relationship with a boy she calls Christopher. She trusted him but he ultimately violated that trust. One fateful day, Roxane was lured to a secluded cabin in the woods where Christopher and his friends took turns raping her.

They were boys who were not yet men but knew, already, how to do the damage of men. I remember their smells, the squareness of their faces, the weight of their bodies, the tangy smell of their sweat, the surprising strength in their limbs. I remember that they enjoyed themselves, and laughed a lot. I remember that they had nothing but disdain for me.

After the assault Roxane did not tell her parents what happened. She dealt with the situation by remaining quiet and by seeking comfort in food. She overate because she thought that by making herself bigger this would act like armour and make her safe from men.

I do not know why I turned to food. Or I do. I was lonely and scared and food offered an immediate satisfaction. Food offered comfort when I needed to be comforted and did not know how to ask for what I needed from those who loved me. Food tasted good and made me feel better. Food was the one thing within my reach.

These days Roxane has found a way to describe her trauma and she now sees her weight as a cage. In Hunger Roxane also uses this space to describe how modern society treats fat people. She explains that Haitians judge gluttony. She also describes humiliating visits to the doctor including one where she went in for strep throat and left being labelled “obese.” There are also lots of people who provide unsolicited health advice to her. This ranges from brazen individuals taking food out of her supermarket trolley to well-meaning people at the gym who offer encouragement laced with a good deal of pity.

When you’re overweight, your body becomes a matter of public record in many respects. Your body is constantly and prominently on display. People project assumed narratives onto your body and are not interested in the truth of your body, whatever that truth might be… You may become very adept at playing the role of wallflower. You may learn how to be the life of the party so that people are too busy laughing at or with you to focus on the elephant in the room. You may do whatever you have to do to survive a world that has little patience or compassion for a body like yours.

It is obvious that Hunger was a difficult book to write, but Roxane should be commended for digging so deep and being prepared to tackle such sensitive subject matter with brutal honesty. Her writing and anecdotes shimmer with a clever insightfulness and are utterly engrossing. Her story is one that will resonate with some readers and hopefully educate others about fat people and how we should treat each other. Hunger is ultimately proof that fat really is a weighty issue and a topic where no one size fits all.

BOOK REVIEW: Hunger - A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

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