13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Penguin Books, 2016; 224 pp
Reviewed by Jack Hill
Mona Awad's book, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, is a riveting short story collection/novel-in-stories circling around Elizabeth/Liz/Lizzie and her complex struggles with body image, food, relationships, school, work, clothing, power, and identity. Mostly set around the Toronto suburbs, Awad's sharp-eyed stories/chapters show us several versions of Elizabeth as she evolves through her life, from the young girl trading pictures with a man in a wheelchair on the Internet to a woman working an office job and being fixated on each bite of food she eats to a thin and seemingly unhappy married woman.
In addition to Awad's captivating stories, she has a fresh eye for how people cope with life and seek connections. For instance, in the fourth chapter, “If That's All There Is,” after being pressured, Lizzie is having sex with a coworker in the back of a taxi and reflects:
This bland man is licking the crotch of my underwear, how nice. Now he has removed them. Now he is biting my thighs. Moaning quietly into my leg flesh. There are a couple of moments when the bottom and the top half fuse, when he bites one of my legs hard or I feel his moans hum against my skin, and I gasp. Then I become a whole body of actual flesh that he is actually touching, then I feel the brush of his tongue as an actual brush of an actual tongue between my actual thighs. That's when I say, I love you, the words just flying out of my mouth like brassy butterflies. Jesus [the taxi driver] looks at me. He heard it, but maybe, hopefully, Archibald [the co-worker] didn't.
The ways Elizabeth seeks comfort from her emotional wounds in the brief glimpses we're shown of her life throughout the book are relatable and earnest. Awad's 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a poignant and important exploration into how body image can affect our daily neuroses.