This is, without question, the most anticipated book I’ve discussed on Lit She Wrote. Historically, many of my choices have been books that have already been established in fiction and nonfiction circles. I work in a bookstore, so it takes a lot to get me excited about new release Tuesday, and even more to convince my bank account to buy anything in hardcover.
Roxane Gay has the unique ability to do both. Hunger is a memoir of Gay’s experience having what she calls an unruly body in a world that will show it no mercy. I tore through the first 75 percent of this book rapidly; I could barely put it down. At that point, however, I forced myself to slow down. Why? Because I didn’t want this book, in which I was seeing so much of my own experience, to end.
That’s the thing about Roxane Gay. Her writing style is such that even the most intense and serious subject matter endears you, drawing you in. She comes across as a fairly private person, so when she delves into such intimate topics, it feels as though she’s opening the door for you. Gay makes no secret of the fact that she has no intention of sharing everything—and we, as readers, aren’t entitled to that—and that she will not be offering a purely happy ending. How can there be? She describes being sexually assaulted and the lasting negative impact it, of course, had on her life. The experience, she explains, played a large part in her weight and body confidence.*
In Hunger, Roxane Gay does what all the best memoirists do; lays experiences out bare, allowing them their due vulnerability. She does not offer platitudes. Her recollections and interpretations aren’t sugarcoated, nor do they offer platitudes. The relatable qualities in this memoir are rooted in that raw honesty. This is, at the very least, true for me. A number of her experiences were familiar to me. I could see my own struggles reflected in hers, though those experiences—as well as our lives—are undoubtedly unique to us. The last thing I want to hear about my problems is that there’s a simple solution when I know there isn’t. If mental health and struggles with weight could be solved with gumption and coconut oil, everyone would be all over it. But, it’s simply not the case. We experience hardships and we struggle. Afterwards, we can reflect and hopefully learn to cope with the lasting effects so we aren’t incapacitated or hindered by them. It’s a complicated process, and one that is done over years, not days.
This book, by that token, was comforting. It didn’t oversimplify problems. Just the opposite—it verified just how complicated they are, and that the roads toward self-acceptance are rocky. Striking a balance between being confident in your own skin and wanting to alter it for your own sake is complex. It often feels as if attempting one negates the other. Ultimately, it’s your body. It’s your mind. The best you can do is to try to nurture them.
I’m barely scratching the surface of this complex and moving memoir, and hardly doing it justice. Just consider this my strong recommendation to pick up a copy. We live in a society that fails to represent the voices of those with unruly bodies, often invalidating their experiences. Hunger is Gay’s powerful and loud proclamation of her own validity.
*I very much urge anyone wanting to better understand this to read the book. I’m not a professional, and it’s not my story to tell. It’s Gay’s, and she does an incredible and powerful job in doing so.