Tuesday, August 1, 2017

HUNGER :: Roxane Gay

If Roxane Gay's Hunger doesn't sear empathy into the core of your being, you likely didn't have the capacity for it to begin with. Gay boldly and baldly describes "the before" and "the after" of her relationship with her body following the horrific trauma that bridged the two and created "the girl in the woods." 
Don't let the title (or gorgeous cover) mislead you. The secret here is in the subtitle, "A Memoir of (My) Body." Although Gay's size evidences her difficult relationship with food, a literal appetite for fuel is not the focus of this work. 

Hunger is about longings that stem from Gay's very soul; those that, to a degree, are a cause of the symptom of "hunger" for fuel. It is about the very human hunger to be seen, to be able to show our true selves to the world, to somehow conquer the defensive use of our bodies as tools to keep the world at bay. Because let's be real, the easiest way to keep the world away is to be fat. Invisible, yet too visible at the same time. Unseen unless simply by existing someone else feels inconvenienced.

Reading the words of someone in pain is, as it should be, difficult. To call this work heartbreaking is a vast understatement. To shout about its courage and importance is only the beginning. There is (appropriately) no yardstick to measure the atrocities suffered by women or where any one woman falls on the trauma spectrum. Gay turned her unspeakable trauma inward and spent the decades that followed mastering the never-ending construction of a suit of armor using her own body as material. 

I would venture that the vast majority of women, wherever they may fall on the trauma or body-type spectra, will find themselves somewhere in Hunger. I did. The event that flipped my switch wasn't even in the same galaxy as Gay's, yet the ideas and emotions she expresses so eloquently hit like the knowing gut punch too many women give themselves every day. Gay knows she's not alone and yet there is an obvious solitary nature to the struggle, a self-imposed exile fed by feelings of shame, inadequacy, disappointment, and society's judgment.

It is that societal judgment that needs to change, not Gay's (or anyone's) body. If I disagree with anything in Hunger it is Gay's assessment that she is neither brave nor heroic. Fuck those notions. Hunger discusses issues usually suffered in silence, issues that deserve to be heard and seen. Let's face it, the world at large can always stand to be schooled on issues of empathy and whether or not you find a kindred wounded spirit in Hunger, you should be knocked to your knees by the lack of basic human dignity often heaped upon the overweight and perhaps make a change in your own perceptions or judgments.

STREET SENSE: A must-read. A book of mostly short, interrelated essays, Hunger can be read in small snippets quite easily, but I would bet a pretty big sum you will have a hard time putting it down.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  So many; settled on this one:

I am hyperconscious of how I take up space. As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it, and not in the wrong way, where the wrong way is any way where my body is concerned. Whenever I am near other people, I try to fold into myself so that my body doesn't disrupt the space of others. I take this to extremes. I will spend five-hour flights tucked against the window, my arm tucked into the seat belt, as if trying to create absence where there is excessive presence. I walk at the edge of sidewalks. In buildings I hug the walls. I try to walk as quickly as I can when I feel someone behind me so I don't get in their way, as if I have less of a right to be in the world than anyone else.

COVER NERD SAYS: Absolute gorgeous perfection. I would have bought this book for the cover alone. In fact, before I bought it, I didn't have any idea about the emotional depths Gay would traverse inside. I'm grateful that the perfect cover led me to the even better prose and person inside.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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