The Fat Friend #BookReview #FatFiction

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The Fat Friend #BookReview #FatFiction

*This book is part of my 2017 search to find positive representations of fat women in fiction or nonfiction, and that positive representation will not hinge on weight loss and falling in love. Thus, books will either meet or not meet my criteria, which will factor overall into my recommendations. I purposely use the word “fat” because it is not a bad word. Using plump, curvy, plus-sized, fluffy, big-boned, shapely, voluptuous, or any other term suggests that fat is bad and thus needs a euphemism.


In The Fat Friend by Julie Edelson, published by Baskerville Publishers in 2004, forty-seven-year-old Shell meets up with Tru, a friend from her school-girl days, after months of not seeing each other. While Shell describes herself as “a plump little bratwurst in black,” Tru is the fat friend, who “resembled a clump of Parker House rolls.” During their lunch dates over the next several months (and each lunch date is a new chapter), Tru monopolizes the conversation, telling stories about people Shell has never met. Because The Fat Friend is in first-person, we know Shell really wants to talk about problems with her husband, son, daughter, and job. But Tru won’t shut up. It’s a scratchy relationship that benefits mostly Tru, suddenly starts losing weight . . .

Author Julie Edelson’s style can be quite funny. At a restaurant, a waiter tries to take Shell’s and Tru’s plates. Shell notes, “I sat back, but Tru circled her vegetables with her arms and went limps as she’d been trained to do in civil disobedience workshops.” Here, I’m laughing about protesting over the right to eat vegetables, even though they’re practically sacred to her, thanks to her restricted eating.

Edelson’s style can be confusing. She chooses weird verbs to tag speech, like “grimped” and “spunked.” I appreciate the creativity, but don’t know what these words imply.

Edelson

I’m not sure who the little girl is supposed to be! Maybe Shell or Tru?

There are also confusing style choices in Shell’s internal monologue. Other voices jump in, but it’s not always clear whose. For instance, Shell takes Tru into her kitchen to say hello to Shell’s husband, Si, who hasn’t see Tru in ages and is surprised that she’s getting thin. Si is often called “Golden Hands” for being happy to fix other people’s things (but never fixes his own, for some reason). Here’s what happens; again, Shell is a first-person narrator:

Tru embraced him, tipping up that new chin — Why Ashley Wilkes! Did I say that my husband is sexy? Women can sense that, sometimes, he can be good. Not near often enough, mind you; same old Golden Hands — just look at the half-assed projects around here — it’s possible he has a few half-assed projects elsewhere. (“I’m only saying this for your own good, Rochelle: no man in his right mind wants a fat girl.” “You’ll always know Si loves you for yourself, honey.”)

To break it down, I believe Shell thinks her husband thinks that he’s as charming as Ashley Wilkes from Gone with the Wind. However, he never finishes projects at home and possibly starts and fails to complete projects in another woman’s home. In her head, Shell can hear her husband tell her to not be fat, but is a hypocrite when he claims he loves her just the way she is.

While the plot doesn’t fully come together, the characters make the book compelling. Tru is snarky; early in the novel when she is fat, a waitress inconspicuously jabs her for it after the waitress asks what they want to drink:

“Ice tea for me,” I said.

Tru said, “And I’ll have a peach smoothie and some water, please,” studying the menu.

“That’s completely fat-free,” Emily said, writing. Tru looked up at her. Emily clicked her pen at my menu. “What kind of tea to you want?”

I surveyed the blur of choices. Tru said, “Skip it. We’ll both have the holy water.” I laughed.

“That’s two waters.”

“Right,” Tru said, “and a peach smoothie and an iced tea. You’ll figure it out.”

Edelson’s novel is also honest. As Tru gets thinner, people ask how she’s lost weight. “Through intense suffering,” she replies. When she’s very small, Shell tells her, “You look fantastic. But what does it matter what you look like?” Tru bluntly replies, “I never thought I’d hear anything that stupid coming from you.” Fat people are hyper aware of how they look and fit into the world. Tru trusts Shell to be honest, and take honest criticism.

But how is the fat representation in this novel? It didn’t play as big of a role as I thought it would. Tru gets smaller, not bigger. She reflects slightly on fatness. For instance, she calls out Shell on her bias: “Of course you’re conditioned to think less of a man who’d make a pass at a heavy woman . . . . As though it has to be kinky.” As she gets smaller and more confused about her body, Tru admits, “I don’t know what the fuck I look like anymore.” While Edelson’s novel wasn’t inspiring or kind to bodies, it does show the gray areas — love and hate — of relationships fat women have with their bodies. It looks at how losing fat doesn’t change a fat person.

The Fat Friend is a compelling novel, one that still feels fragmented as a result of Tru telling a new long story about people the narrator doesn’t know in each of the first several chapters, which can make the reader confused and wonder what the plot arc will be. But, experiencing the humor, a new writing style, and what happens to Shell and Tru can make it worth the read.

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26 responses »

        • One of my students explained to me last semester that her pastor calls it “spaghetti brain.” Granted, he was saying it’s how women think; their thoughts are all over the place and get tangled up. I like the imagery, but don’t appreciate that it’s tied to gender.

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            • This quote and the commentary makes me think of a scene in the recent season of “You’re the Worst” in which Gretchen and Lindsey are talking over a lunch out and Gretchen asks Lindsey to simply say what comes into her mind as she is thinking (all you need to know is that Gretchen tends to be too much in her own brain and Lindsey isn’t in her brain much) and it’s basically a string of words that are more ziti-like than spaghetti-like, but I think it’s the same idea.

              I do love character-driven stuff, but the mechanics have to work for me too, or else I get thrown out of the story. Nonetheless I did enjoy reading your thoughts on the novel and I’m glad you appreciated the humour (hard to find)!

              Liked by 1 person

  1. A very confusing quote indeed and I don’t get those speech tags either. I’ve come across authors who seem embarrassed to just say ‘he said’ because maybe they don’t think it sounds important enough so they end up loaded with tags that are more ‘powerful’ in their minds – but after pages of this stuff I find it a tedious technique

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    • I know Stephen King recommend authors really stick with “said,” and when I’m reading I agree. However, I read aloud to my husband every night, and I must confess that all the “said” tags start to sound….well, stupid is the only word I can come up with, which is pretty thoughtless of me. I liked the creativity of those tags because I like people who play around with words, but I wish they were more like portmanteaus or something I could figure out.

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      • Stephen King’s advice is also given out to newbies in creative writing courses – they don’t mean that you use he said/she said exclusively but its meant to hold people back from going over the top with he declared/she stated which doesnt sound very natural

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        • That’s true. You get weird things like, “No, mademoiselle!” he yelled excitedly. It’s the verb tag with the adjective that’s just the worst. Yet, even Daphne du Maurier sticks with “said,” which adds a dryness to the narrative I wouldn’t expect.

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          • I find creative speech tags super irritating. I think it comes from being taught (not just by Stephen King) to either use ‘said’ or give the character an action that shows their tone/mood.

            The Ashley Wilkes reference is an interesting one. It’s been years since I read Gone With the Wind, but isn’t he all dreamy to begin with but turns out to be weak and racist?

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  2. I was confused by that quotation also. But I appreciate the sense of realism I got from the other selections you shared. I find myself wondering how this one ends! (I know you can’t share spoilers, though.) Glad you found a book that (mostly) worked for you.

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    • I didn’t see the ending coming, to be honest. I mostly kept wondering if Tru would stop telling stories and the plot would move forward with Tru AND Shell. Eventually, Shell shares more from her POV while she’s at home, so we get to know her kids and husband and mother-in-law. Then Tru pops up again with some demands!

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  3. Your review leaves me conflicted. As others have stated above, the quote confuses me– But you selected one of the more challenging passages intentionally to show the confusion of the internal monologue, yes? If all the writing reflects the style of that quote, I don’t know if I could read the full book.

    I’m also not certain where this book is going based on your review is this merely a slice of life? Or does something finally happen over the course of these lunch dates?

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    • The quote I chose reflects a lot of the book. I wish it was one of the harder ones! It was a challenge to keep up with HOW the narrator thought, which I liked (I like challenges), but I also never “fell into” the story and simply enjoyed myself.

      The plot IS quite strange. Shell and Tru meet up for lunch dates for many of the first chapters. Each chapter is they get together, order food, then Tru tells a story about people we never hear about again. Shell, meanwhile, makes snarky comments, wishing she could talk, too. This happened for so many chapters that I thought it was what the entire book would be like. Then, we get a chapter about Shell’s home life and get to know a bit about her husband and nearly-grown children. Her dead parents often enter her mind, much like her husband did in the quote I provided. Eventually, Tru has to call Shell in the middle of the night to rescue her because she’s tied up in her apartment after an orgy went wrong. Why is Tru being so reckless, I asked myself. Then I found out why. Very shortly after, the book ended.

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      • Well *THAT* caught my attention. Now I’m definitely intrigued. Thanks for clarifying about the plot– it seems like pacing might be a bit off, but that could just be the narrative style. I’m glad you like challenges! I read for fun, so if it becomes too much like work, I pass. It means I miss some great literature, I know, but there are only so many books and so much time.

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  4. Grimped and spunked? Interesting words. I like to find unusual words and slang in novels, especially if it adds to the sense of “place” in a book, but I’d find it irritating if it happened too often.

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  5. Based on the quote that you shared, this does sound like a challenging read. I am not sure I get what it means. However, I like what you said about losing weight not changing a person. That is interesting and thought-provoking. I am thinking​ about it in terms of insecurities. If one was insecure before about their weight, would the insecurities change once they lose the weight or would they still have them about something different. I don’t know if that is clear, but I liked what you said about the change. Fab review as always.

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    • I think that our happiness isn’t tired to our weight. There are miserable and happy people of all sizes. Furthermore, we aren’t just our weight. We can be unhappy about a lot of different things: our relationships, sex lives, government, jobs, friends, education, location, whether or not someone left dirty clothes on the floor again, etc. I think a lot of people DO think they’re happier when they lose weight because at first everyone pays attention to and compliments them like crazy.

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