Fat Bodyguards by Marita Fowler

The following book has been selected as part of my search to find positive representations of folks who identify as fat women in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. That positive representation will not hinge on the character being miserable and then happy after losing weight or falling in love. Characters can lose weight or fall in love, but it is not the catalyst for their happiness. I also will not recommend books in which the character pulls her body apart (I call this the “chicken dinner”) and criticize pieces.

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.


fat bodyguards
For those who asked in a previous post, the donkey is depicted as angry because it bites Shasta.

Fat Bodyguards by Marita Fowler is the follow-up novel to Fat Assassins, which I loved. At the end of the previous novel, Ulyssa and Shasta head to New Jersey to get their money from the mob boss for a job well done. But the big boss isn’t done with them. He convinces our fat protagonists to take another job: accompany his teenage daughter and her friend on a cruise, which he’s booked for a birthday present. The bodyguards and their snobby rich charges all set off! The only warning: never get off to sight see if the ship stops in Mexico (cruises often make stops for a brief time so people can engage in activities on land). The mob boss has some stank in that region and doesn’t want his precious daughter to get kidnapped.

She and her friend get kidnapped. Of course they do! There wouldn’t be a story if they didn’t.

While Fat Bodyguards definitely has Fowler’s writing flavor in it, setting the story in Mexico cheats the reader out of all the magic made in Fat Assassins. It’s really the setting and secondary characters that made the first book so great. Staples of the first book, like Deputy Hodde, cousin Tater, Ulyssa’s Italian parents, and all the people who live out in the woods and partake in “don’t get caught season” and “tourist fishing,” gave Fowler’s protagonists something to respond to, and that something confirmed their identities, setting Shasta and Ulyssa apart from other action characters.

fat assassins

Without those amazing characters from Fat Assassins, the plot really needed to hold its own. While easy to read and follow, I discovered the story was action-driven and didn’t balance that with characterization. There are so many big moments that the plot is shaped more like a Nintendo game with mini bosses that lead to a big boss than a traditional story arc. That made it less engaging for me because my emotions weren’t built up through connection to the characters.

Finally, because I recently read a memoir set largely in Mexico, I have to comment on the way Fowler portrays the country. Unfortunately, the descriptions were largely cliche: tortillas, sombreros, tequila, ponchos, etc. Not that Fat Bodyguards should be compared to the memoir I read, but not once in 300+ pages did Reyna Grande mention any of the cliches Fowler used repeatedly. I think we all must be careful about how we represent other cultures so that the people depicted maintain their dignity and humanity, even in a comedic novel.

Though I wasn’t as impressed with Fat Bodyguards, I was happy to support Fowler’s work as she continues to write about fat women owning it. This novel didn’t write about size quite as much as the the first, but it was still present. I hope that when the 3rd novel is finished, Fowler gets her girls back to Nitro, West Virginia, and with the characters I grew to love.

fat spies

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28 comments

  1. I was especially thinking about your comments on the way Mexico is depicted. I think whenever an author sets a story anywhere, that location shouldn’t be portrayed in stereotypes. That takes away from the power of the setting, in my opinion. And, yes, sometimes secondary characters can really make a book shine.

    • Part of the fun of writing is imagination, but there is also a reason writers are told “write what you know.” I hope book 3 (she’s still writing it) returns readers to West Virginia, which Fowler clearly knows well.

  2. I often wonder why authors whisk characters off to another location, since often it’s the location and all the peripheral characters that appeal to returning readers as much as the main characters. Even with my favourite detectives, I often sigh a little when they suddenly get seconded in book 9 to some entirely different city…

  3. I will admit, I just read your review of fat Assassins and I’m disappointed you didn’t get the same riveting excitement from reading Fat Bodyguards. However, it sounds like a lot in this book is still worthwhile. Did you find the fat-representation remained similar to the previous book? You don’t really mention it at all in your review– this makes me wonder if there is any real fat-representation present.

    In regards to the representation of Mexico, I completely agree with you, but I also want to point out that a lot of the slightly-mocking stereotypical West Virginian behaviors you explored in the previous review aren’t really explored in memoirs like Hillbilly Elegy either. Without reading this book, only knowing your reviews, I would interpret this more as a slightly-mocking stereotypical American cruise tourist experience. Why else would you go on a cruise to Mexico? To get the sun without any Mexican culture, obviously. 😉 Thoughts?

    • In Fat Bodyguards, there are a couple of mentions of Ulyssa’s and Shasta’s bodies. For example, Shasta wedges herself out of a her chair to sit on the edge of it so she can jump up quickly when something attacks them. She also gets shot in a fat roll, and while that’s isn’t great representation, per se, I found it weirdly realistic. I mean, fat people have fat rolls, and this Mexican boy accidentally shoots her. Other than that, nothing much.

      As for the representation of West Virginia: while I’ve visited WV, I’m from Michigan. Weirdly, we do a lot of the same activities, such as trying to not get caught by the DNR for killing a deer out of season, riding lawnmowers like cars, heading to the county fair like it’s the biggest event since Joe Louis beat James J. Braddock. Thus, I believe Fowler represents “country life” fairly accurately. She’s also from that area of the country herself.

  4. Lazy to set the sequel in Mexico; let’s just hope it was just a rookie mistake. When you think about the Stephanie Plum series, for instance, location, and the ongoing supporting cast, play an important part in her characterisation. I agree entirely about ‘action’ – just lists of improbable situations with inevitable outcomes (the survival of the main character).

  5. Thank you so much for mentioning the portrayal of Mexico to be very stereotypical. When reading the synopsis, I immediately side-eyed at the mention of Mexico being the place WHERE ALL THE BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Really, I’m starting to wonder if this mob boss isn’t a total fool. If you have beef with people there, don’t send your kid anywhere near there. Mob boss couldn’t afford a fun trip to Paris? That Fat Spies cover is a delight though, so I hope that one brings back all the things you loved about the first.

    • You’re welcome. I’m working hard to read more books written by people from other countries so I can be more discerning about the fiction I read in which people may travel to countries that the author is NOT from in an effort to not develop any unhealthy biases.

  6. A shame about the stereotypes, but it sounds like there was still a lot to enjoy about this book? Anyway, I hope the third one lives up to the standard set by the first.

  7. Too bad this one wasn’t as good as the first, but hopefully the third one will be back on form! The cover is much better (in my opinion). I also hope the author can learn from your reviews, ’cause it sounds as though she could have a good thing going here!

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