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13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl: Fiction


13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl: Fiction

There is one scene (probably more than one) in Mona Awad’s 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL that will resonate with any woman who has ever dreaded entering a dressing room with a coveted item of clothing, balanced between hope that the new smaller size will fit perfectly and growing fear that it just won’t. As Awad’s protagonist (who at this point in the narrative has lost a great deal of weight, at no small cost) tries on a designer dress, one that intellectually she knows is still too small for her newly trimmed figure, she gets stuck in the zipper, horrified at the prospect of having to ask the patronizing sales clerk for help, fantasizing about her options for escaping undetected from the boutique.

There are plenty of moments like this in Awad’s new work of fiction, a collection of linked short stories that follow the protagonist, Lizzie, as she continually reinvents herself from a fat, unhappy adolescent to a newly divorced, still-unhappy (but no longer exactly fat) woman in her late 20s. As Lizzie tries on new personas, as she loses and gains weight and navigates her shifting sense of self, she also changes names --- Elizabeth, Beth, Liz, etc. --- another indication of her inability to recognize and value her own identity for who she is, apart from how she is defined by dress size.

"The stories here...effectively hang together as a chronological narrative of one young woman’s life."

In the early stories, Lizzie is growing up in Mississauga (which she calls “Misery Saga”), a large Toronto suburb. She finds herself drawn into the orbit of other, more charismatic girls, from Mel, who uses her voluptuous size to entice older men, to China, who helps convince Lizzie she’s beautiful --- until she doesn’t. And there are men, too --- a quadriplegic who Lizzie meets online, a two-timer who convinces her she’s the only one, her eventual husband for whom she moves halfway across the country. In each case, Lizzie must balance her pleasure at the men’s attraction with her inner conviction that she herself is not worthy of sexual attraction or romantic love.

In some ways, the stories become more provocative and complex once Lizzie starts to lose weight and come to terms with an identity outside of “the fat girl.” She becomes somewhat less likable, more brittle and more obsessed with weighing and measuring her food and less with engaging with the people around her. She finds it impossible to imagine that her husband might miss her old expansive body (and the more expansive personality that accompanied it). And, most critically, she must come to terms with the realization that there is not an inverse relationship between weight and happiness.

The stories here (many of which were originally published as stand-alone stories in McSweeney’s, Post Road and elsewhere) effectively hang together as a chronological narrative of one young woman’s life. Their emotional rawness and at times complex portrayal of women’s relationships to their own bodies will ring true with many females, making 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL perfect material for book groups to read, laugh with and cry over together.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 24, 2016

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl: Fiction
by Mona Awad

  • Publication Date: February 23, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • ISBN-10: 0143128485
  • ISBN-13: 9780143128489