Monday, July 25, 2011

Diana Spechler's Skinny

I recently read Diana Spechler's Skinny and recommend it. It is a story of a daughter grieving her father who wishes to escape her life of binge eating and guilt by working at a weight loss camp.

There are many things I liked about this novel. The characters are vividly and realistically depicted. Spechler's teenagers talk and act like teens, and here she bucks a trend to make teenagers extraordinarily precocious and unnaturally mature. The protagonist's struggle with her weight and constant hunger feels very familiar to me. It is refreshing that a fiction writer of Spechler's caliber addresses our problematic relationship with food. Her prose is in an accessible register of the language, reflecting the thinking patterns of the narrator and those around her, occasionally seasoned with sharp wit. Spechler also resists the tendency to make her protagonist/narrator completely sympathetic. Gray Lachmann is no shallow two-dimensional goody-two-shoes. Rather, she is self-absorbed and treats her boyfriend abominably. The storyline is compelling, with plenty of drama and occasional humor, and you will not want to put the book down until you finish it.

I have a couple of very minor criticisms, but who writes anything perfectly, really? Even translators and adapters of Shakespeare's works claimed to have improved them. The description of the eating binges in the early chapters is difficult to slog through, a bit horrific and unappetizing but this attests to Spechler's power of depiction. Further, even though Gray Lachmann also fasts and runs after her binges to reduce their effect, it seems an odd choice for Spechler that her protagonist only gains fifteen unwanted pounds, rather than two or three times that amount, though it makes her near-anorexia by the end of the summer more plausible. Towards the end, as the reader expects a dramatic revelation of a secret, something completely random occurs, and I question if it is necessary, though the plot would have taken a markedly different route without this deus ex machina event in act four. Nonetheless, these small issues do not overshadow my appreciation of the rest of the book, which, on the whole was a very satisfying read--as satisfying as a good meal with moderate portions.

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