13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl – Mona Awad

mona-awadThe pale blue cover of this book was certainly more inviting than the title. All I could muster for expectations was the bullying of a fat girl by other brutally honest children. It turns out that I was partially right. A fat girl was being tortured, but by herself. Some modern writers seem pretty strange to me with the dark, gruesome, raw ways they relay their messages. Mona Awad is one of those. This book is an account of a life of a fat girl, beginning in her teenage years. It also begins much more sexual than anyone would expect.

Elizabeth lives with just her mother. Her closest, very promiscuous buddy is named Mel, and so the story begins with the girls trying to seduce a group of men in McDonalds. Elizabeth describes how she always gets pulled into Mel’s crazy ideas, because she never has the courage to say no. She also describes the other, more innocent part of their friendship, including sharing music and clothes. Wow, the clothes. This book has exceptional descriptions of the attire worn or forced on by the characters. It continues with a number of much older men the pair engages with just for money, and their other immoral indulgences that the author so casually includes. Elizabeth’s mother makes an effort to save her from the road she’s walking and to make her lose weight while she’s young. It never works.

The author sways to and fro with the narrators and the reader really does get a few perspectives on a fat girl. From grueling clothing store visits and dressing room experiences, restaurant unhappiness, boyfriends with fat girl fetishes, snarky comments from skinnier girls and midnight baking feasts with bad music. After a few more concupiscent encounters, college years and temp jobs, Elizabeth meets Tom. For some reason she believes she needs to work on her weight for him. Elizabeth starts a diet and gets smaller which makes her mother extremely happy and Tom who prefers her curves, still marries her. She doesn’t stop her diet and she continues to lose more and more weight. Elizabeth shares her disturbing thoughts of herself and the toll her rigid food regime and workout schedule takes on her. She’s taken to eating just salads or vegetables, and creates scenarios in her head of the people who can eat more than her and don’t become fat. Tom undeniably suffers as he tries to be supportive by eating her strange dishes and calling her beautiful when her skintight dresses are never suitable for the occasion. Elizabeth is now always too moody for conversations, too tired for sex and too sensitive for dates and other intimacies of their marriage.

Mona Awad does a brilliant job with her descriptions and every meal, dish and item of clothing jumps right off the page. Although the story switches narrators and abruptly arrives in new settings, it is easy to connect to the frustrations and indecent activities in each way of looking at a fat girl. This is certainly not a book for children or someone who will be easily disturbed by the vice. It is surely an unorthodox, unusual novel.

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