I haven’t figured out Liza Palmer (she/her) as an author yet. In her novel The F Word we get a character who used to be fat and is now thin, but psychologically still living as a fat woman. I liked the way the character thought being thin would change everything for her, neglecting the way the brain adapts to survive, and being skinny didn’t change her thoughts. But in Palmer’s novel about Maggie, titled Conversations with the Fat Girl, I was hoping to get into the mid of a woman living in a fat body and navigating all the challenges of life while combating the prejudices of a fatphobic society. Or, you know, maybe just being happy. I did not get that.
To get it out there, I did not finish Conversations with the Fat Girl. I stopped on page 176, which is more than halfway through. Here’s the problem: some folks cling to victimhood without realizing they are also a perpetrator of harm. While Maggie feels that people are staring at her “Area” (a term I loathed) and judging her — that she’ll never get married or have babies, that she can’t use her master’s in museum archiving because she’s too big — she was a complete shit to other people. Judging? Check. Petty? Definitely. Empathetic? Erm, no.
The co-worker on whom she has a crush, Domenic, has been hanging out with Maggie, asking her if she’s coming to the work party or if she needs help moving. These are all signs he likes her, at least as a friend, if not more. But when they arrange a date, Maggie proves herself unworthy of dating because she’s so mean. Domenic shows up and gives a silly greeting:
“Helloo,” Domenic says in a faux British accent.
Interesting. Not the most attractive habit. Accents? Keep him golden, Maggie. Keep him golden. That was not a deal breaker. Talk yourself down, girl.
And what does she mean by “golden”? Maggie fantasizes about guys she likes, sloughing away flaws and creating an imaginary perfect boyfriend. When in real life the guy does anything that doesn’t fit with her fantasy, she mentally dumps them and moves on to a new crush. Should anyone date Maggie, surely they would break up immediately over something stupid. I mean, she has to talk herself down? I couldn’t wrap my head around how ridiculous that was. You might even argue that Maggie self-sabotages because she’s so shallow:
“Do you want to drive?” Domenic asks.
“Sure.” Might as well, I’m obviously the man tonight. We’ll talk about the Dodgers and maybe throw in some dish about supermodels being hot. What fun.
So, she’s sexist and petty and can’t figure out why Domenic doesn’t just fall in love with her. In fact, she’s judgmental about him having roommates and working as a busboy in a cafe . . . the same cafe where she works as a barista despite having a master’s degree.
Meanwhile, Maggie’s best friend from high school, who got bariatric surgery and is a size two (a fact we’re told repeatedly) is getting married. The friend asks questions like which wedding dress makes her look the most size two. It’s obvious the friend isn’t eating and doesn’t love her fiance, but he’s “perfect” because he’s blond and tan and a doctor. When are authors going to stop feeding us this stupid line about the perfect doctor husband? Read anything online about doctors and you’ll see they’re largely married to their work, stressed, and miss their children. But of course, Maggie feels jealous and left out, despite being the maid of honor.
Just a really sad, disappointing book that emphasizes how feeling self-conscious and mistreated doesn’t make a person kind toward others.
CW: sizeism, fatphobia, eating disorders