The Blurb Made Me Do It: Fat - A Love Story (In Which Age Is Not Just A Number, and I Give Away the Ending)

On the back of this Barbara Wersba book is an extract which reads: "Getting fat is really a feminist act... It is a challenge to sex-role stereotyping and our concept of womanhood."
I just had to read the rest of the book to find out what the story really was- I like reading most things about feminism and the re-imagining of womanhood, it makes me feel like I am Getting To Know Myself.
Anyway.

Fat - A Love Story is about Rita Formica, a teenager from the wrong side of the Hamptons, with an overeating problem and a crush on a blonde rich boy. Already, it sounds like something I would rather pass up than spend precious time reading, but that one sentence of the blurb made me want to see this one through.


Rita knows that she overeats, her parents are distressed about it, and she has given up on trying to do anything about it. Then one day when she's out running errands with her mom, she sees Robert Swann- rich, blonde, tan, aloof, all the things teenagers in America seem to find irresistible- and determines to be the kind of girl he would like.
This involves signing up to the local gym, starting a diet, and attending counselling sessions with one curiously named Dr Marsha Strawberry.

It is this Strawberry that talks about fatness and feminism, and her sessions with Rita (who has now taken to calling herself Skylar Cunningham, because changing your name automatically makes you more desirable to rich people) are full of rhetoric about "two selves- a fat one, and a thin one", eating to protect herself from growing up, and having to be "in competition" with her mother, and so much quasi-Freudian stuff. I felt it was a little too much for a YA book- it started to read a little bit like a psychology journal article.

Apart from the ineffectual therapist, Rita also deals with Arnold Bromberg, who has employed her at his cheesecake shop. Because business is not going well, Rita is paid mostly to have tea and (dry) cheesecake, and listen to Arnold's philosophies on life.
Arnold has a strange kind of optimism about life, and he has a charming way about him- when he speaks of dreams, or what the future could hold, you want to believe him. He and Rita become quite close, and she tells him about how much work she is doing to get Robert to fall in love with her.

Through the conversations she has with Arnold, Rita learns to be independent, and to know that she is worthy of love. That is what she needed to hear, so that she would stop eating her feelings and express them instead. And boy does she express them. Fat - A Love Story is not just a story about self-love, like I thought it would be, but it is also a story about how love comes in the most unexpected forms, but always at the right time.

That notion in itself is not harmful, but when I saw that the love that Rita ended up accepting (in fact, demanding) is that of a man in his mid- to late 30s, well... I was so uncomfortable with the closing scenes, where Rita runs to Arnold after Robert finally showed her that he will never love her. Instead of taking solace at home, she goes to Arnold, and that cliched movie scene plays out: she has been crying, he says she should shower and stay until she calms down; she is on the couch, he is with her and they talk about what has made her upset- he 'understands' and says it will all be okay; a friendly arm around the shoulder escalates into a kiss, and...
At first, Arnold hesitates. Rita is, after all, a minor, and he seems to be aware that they are both acting irrationally because they are over-emotional. But then Rita, who must be about 16 years old at most, assures Arnold that she knows what she is getting into, and that she wants to "take the next step" with him.

The ending is ambiguous, as it does not clearly state whether or not Rita and Arnold actually had sex, but the idea is left hanging there. That was enough to distract me from how much Rita had learned as a person- about friendship, her weight, and life in general. I don't think that the Rita-Arnold "romance" can be justified with "age is just a number", because that number has everything to do with whether it is love, or just emotional and physical exploitation (on the part of the older person in the relationship).
It is possible that I am taking this very personally, but I just don't know what type of message this sends to teenagers- "if the popular boys won't love you, find an older man who will"?

I don't know, but the book left me feeling both underwhelmed and disturbed.
What I now know is that judging a book by its blurb, is almost more dangerous than judging it by its cover. I was so wrong about how much I would like this one.



See more reviews over at Goodreads.

Comments

  1. Woo what a book, almost had me asking to borrow it there, great review though, we should really learn how to pick books and be honest about how they read in the end*

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