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 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.
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.