cover image 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Mona Awad. Penguin, $16 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-14-312848-9

Awad opens her assured and terrific debut collection of linked stories with a quotation from Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle:“There was always that shadowy twin, thin when I was fat, fat when I was thin...” Roughly following that 1976 novel’s coming-of-age trajectory from miserable overweight youth to precarious (but fashion-model size) adulthood, Awad artfully revisits themes related to body mass, femininity, cultural values, and resistance, finding virtually no reasons to be optimistic. Though Atwood’s Joan ultimately carves out a niche for herself on her own terms, Awad’s furious and damaged Lizzie is deformed by external pressures. She finds nominal success in too-tight bandage dresses, and she obsessively measures food intake while worrying about maximizing her sessions on an elliptical machine. From a half-correct bitter prediction Lizzie makes as a teen Goth in suburban Ontario (“I’ll be hungry and angry all my life but I’ll also have a hell of a time”) to glimpses of her days as an angry, dissatisfied temp, Awad portrays Lizzie careening between raging at the world and scrutinizing her failings in the mirror. After she’s “started losing,” upsetting stories trace her discomfiting relationship with her overweight mother in “Fit4U” and “My Mother’s Idea of Sexy” and romantic partners in “She’ll Do Anything.” Marketing the book as “hilarious” is misdirection: Lizzie’s witticisms, while abundant, are attacks, and her grotesque development is a profoundly somber indictment of the gendered cultural norms that, in effect, created her. Agent: Julia Kenny, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. (Feb.)