Saturday, May 18, 2013

Obesity & Attenberg's The Middlesteins

From last week's BBC article "Rise in obesity poses dementia time bomb:"
Ever-growing waistlines could result in a big increase in the number of people who develop dementia in the future, researchers have warned...
Nobody knows exactly what causes dementias such as Alzheimer's disease, but body weight appears to be a risk factor. One study of 8,500 Swedish twins showed that those with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30, who are classified as obese, were almost four times as likely to develop dementia as those with a normal BMI.
For a novel about obesity, try Attenberg's The Middlesteins:
For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie's enormous girth. She's obsessed with food--thinking about it, eating it--and if she doesn't stop, she won't have much longer to live.
When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle-- a whippet thin perfectionist-- is intent on saving her mother-in-law's life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children's spectacular b'nai mitzvah party.
Through it all, they wonder: do Edie's devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too? With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.
If you'd prefer a young-adult novel, you might like Blubber by Judy Blume:
Sometimes a writer will make a character fat as a political tool, in order to convey their own intended message, be it one of size acceptance, tolerance, or other. This seems most prevalent, logically, in children's books - Judy Blume's Blubber is the strongest example that comes to mind.
Written realistically from the point of view of an average-sized, ordinary child named Jill, Blubber tells the story of the merciless, constant taunting of Jill's obese classmate, Linda. Jill struggles to reconcile her own feelings of guilt and her need to not be cruel with her fear of falling victim to the same cruelty as her overweight peer.
This is one of the few children's books I can think of that deals honestly with the kind of bullying fat (and other noticeably 'different') kids are subject to, and its brutality. Blume makes her point, without coming off as preachy or judgmental or bonking the reader over the head with obvious, overblown clearcut endings.
(The review above is from the excellent essay "The Skinny on Fat in Fiction.")

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