Monday, November 15, 2004

Think Thin

I picked up a copy of Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed earlier this year after I read a very short blurb about it in a magazine. It sounded interesting. It sounded different. The premise of the story is a sometime in the indefinite future America where body worship has replaced all other forms of worship including that of God. The perfect body, fit and young will be yours, can be yours if you want it. Heaven is the Afterfat and the preacher is the Reverend Earl who has built an empire out of everyone's desire and need to look perfect. In the middle of this culture is Annie, about 17 years old and anorexic. Even though thin is what you are striving for, too thin is just as wrong as fat. So Annie's parents sign her over to the Dedicated Sisters who "help" the anorexic and the obese by keeping them in hidden prisons and forcing them to eat or to starve. Annie has two younger siblings, twins, Danny and Betz, who decide that, along with Annie's boyfriend, Dave, they will find and rescue Annie. Not long after the twins leave, mom decides that she has to save her family from falling apart and she too goes on the road to find Annie and the twins. Their journeys eventually bring them all back together in what is supposed to be a huge climax of an ending tempered by knowing that it may be over but it isn't really over. Even though they manage to bring down the Reverend Earl, there is someone else standing behind him, ready to take his place. Kit Reed has two books that were finalists for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and another book that was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Unfortunately Thinner Than Thou did not live up to my expectations. The writing itself was not good. One of the most annoying things about it was her habit of changing points of view--first starting from a omniscient narrator, distant and far off, and then moving in to third person and finally settling to first person. It felt like she was trying for a sort of big screen movie shot where the camera starts far off and then gradually moves in to focus just on one person. It doesn't work well here. Added in to that is the occasional attempt to throw in teenager talk--um, like, she goes (instead of she says). Then there is my quibble over the way she treats anorexia. I have read several memoirs written by women who are/were anorexic. Anorexia is a disease. It is not as if a girl wakes up one day and decides that just for the hell of it she's going to starve herself. It is not like she has control over the disease. But that is more or less how Reed portrays it here. Annie decides she is going to see just how thin she can get. And at the end, when Annie and her extremely obese friend Kelly are trying to escape and Annie can barely stand because she is so thin and weak, Kelly gets her to eat not one, but two, chocolate bars just by telling her to. And not long after that when Annie's mom and the twins find her we are made to believe that Annie will suddenly be okay. Not once is there a discussion or comment or question by anyone as to why Annie might be anorexic. While Annie chooses to starve herself, on the other end of the book's weight spectrum, the people who are fat are just born that way, they have no choice. Given the growing waistlines of Americans, weight is a touchy topic. But except for a small number of people for whom obesity really is just the way they are because of medical or genetic issues, most people who are fat are that way because they eat too much and don't exercise enough. We are a nation of people who drink diet soda with our Big Macs and who go to the gym to try and make up for the piece of chocolate cake we ate at the office party. But Reed glosses over the politics of fat just as she does the politics of thin. Of course the point of the Thinner Than Thou is to make our culture of body worship look ridiculous as well as horrifying and to show what could happen if it is taken to the extreme. At the same time we are supposed to take away with us an understanding that it isn't what the body looks like that matters but the person inside it. But, like a bite size Hershey bar, it really doesn't satisfy.