Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

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Rating – 5 stars

Date Finished – June 14, 2017

51/120 in 2017

As an avid memoir reader (especially lady memoirs), it takes a lot for one to surprise me. I’ve read all kinds – female comics, activists, actors, stories of childhood trauma, addiction, weight loss, travel, spiritual journeys, (etc., etc.), and while I love the genre, it can be a little predictable. This book – this book is different. Roxane Gay says:

“This is a book about my body, and my hunger, and ultimately, this is a book about disappearing and being lost and wanting so very much, wanting to be seen and understood… This is a memoir of (my) body because more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided. People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not. This is not a story if triumph, but this is a story that demands to be told and deserves to be heard.”

What follows are 88 short chapters in which Gay lays herself bare, sharing her own body’s story, and the story of her hunger.

Roxane Gay falls squarely in my Will Read Anything She Writes category – from Bad Feminist to her recent articles about the current season of the Bachelorette. She’s sharp, incisive, passionate, and absolutely brilliant.

From the very first page of Hunger, Gay does not mince words. With terse prose, she gets right to the point: “What you need to know is that my life is split in two, cleaved not so neatly. There is the before and the after. Before I gained weight. After I gained weight. Before I was raped. After I was raped.” At the age of twelve, Gay was brutally sexually assaulted by a group of boys her age. After, she “ate and ate and ate to build her body into a fortress.” She held her secret, and she survived.

The thing that I found so absolutely gutting about this memoir is Gay’s willingness to embrace contradiction. Gay believes wholeheartedly that her “worth as a human being does not reside in her size or appearance,” but at the same time, she wants deeply to be healthy, to exist comfortably in our society – and there is room for both. The whole book is full of these contradictions, and we’re all wiser and better people if we can recognize and accept that complexity in each other.

As a straight, white, able-bodied, and average-sized woman, Gay’s reflections about life with an “unruly body” were, at times, shocking. We’re all fairly aware that women, people of color, and other minorities face daily microaggressions, but I hadn’t really considered just how prejudiced we are against fat bodies. Gay has had people remove things from her grocery cart while offering unsolicited nutritional advice, and she’s trolled mercilessly on the internet. I have no idea what it’s like to exist in the world with a different body, but Gay’s words made me consider how alienating it could be.

I am grateful beyond words that this book exists. How incredibly bold of Roxane Gay to share her hunger with the world – a world that so often refuses to see and acknowledge her humanity. I’ll just be over here handing out copies to everyone I’ve ever met.

“Here I am showing you the ferocity of my hunger. Here I am, finally freeing myself to be vulnerable and terribly human. Here I am, reveling in that freedom. Here. See what I hunger for and what my truth has allowed be to create.”

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