— Jami Attenberg, The Middlesteins
OH MY GOD THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN JUST FOR ME IT’S THE BEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME:
"It really was his story. It was nothing Cath ever would have written on her own. Stupid, quirky girl character. Stupid, pretentious boy character. No dragons."
~ FANGIRL, Rainbow Rowell
I began with eating and moved on to cooking just as I began with reading and moved on to writing. I was very lonely for most of my life until the past few years, and this loneliness was assuaged, as it so often is, with reading and writing, cooking and eating. These were most often solitary pleasures for me. The company of other people, the vicissitudes of romantic relationships, or just being out in the world, have often made me feel anxious, uncomfortable, judged, shy, or misunderstood, and fundamentally unconnected to myself, the truest cause of loneliness. Eating a good meal, like reading a satisfying novel, has returned me to myself during times when this disconnect was a profound internal chasm.
~ Kate Christensen, Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites"
Anonymous said: I think cannibalism is a choice that has to be justified, although not necessarily by a traumatic past.
Oh absolutely. But as you said, does it have to be justified by her past humiliations as an overweight woman? Or can it be a decision she makes because that seems like the most logical decision for her - as a person - in the moment?
I wrote this story in the fall, called “Lean Cuisine,” in which a woman about to turn forty decides she wants to lose forty pounds before her birthday and subsequently ends up starving herself. She becomes so obsessed with her body and what she’s denying it that she turns to cannibalism. Chessie is a normal woman: she works in a library; she faces daily trials and humiliations that both weaken and strengthen her; and she has a long-time friend whom she both loves and hates.
After this story was workshopped in my fall fiction class, I read through the comments from my professor and found myself stuck at how to proceed in revising this story. I knew (and still know) that something important is missing from both character and plot in “Lean Cuisine,” but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, despite the pile of comments I received from both my peers and my professor. But after reading Roxane Gay’s excellent essay on Buzzfeed, "Not Here to Make Friends," I had an epiphany:
At one point in her essay, Gay writes about Beth and Addy, the two main characters in Megan Abbott’s excellent novel DARE ME. Gay states, “Throughout the novel, Beth and Addy remain unlikable, remain flawed to an extent, but there is no explanation for it, no clear trajectory between cause and effect.” After reading this, I went back to the original letter my professor wrote me after my workshop of “Lean Cuisine,” and I found this sentence in the final paragraph: “I think it worth noting that we don’t really linger on good moments, like when Chessie looks at herself in the mirror, in which more could be illuminated about her by a more subjective presentation of her character.” My professor also states throughout his comments that the reader is “uncertain” about how he or she should feel about Chessie, and that her past experiences as as a “humiliated” girl need to be illuminated. When I had a conference with this professor to talk more in depth about my story, I told him that I wanted the reader to feel angry at Chessie for not taking more control of her own life. And I still want the reader to feel angry at her, but angry that she didn’t take control SOONER, because in her act of eating people (however outlandish that may be) Chessie is doing something for herself - for her body, for her self-esteem, for her mind - that has nothing whatsoever to do with past humiliations.
I guess what I’m saying is this: why should I have to illuminate Chessie’s past humiliations and tribulations in order for the reader to understand why she turns to cannibalism? What if Chessie was “normal” as a child? What if she was never made fun of for her looks or her weight? Does there have to be some sort of explanation for her current actions? Does Chessie have to be, in a sense, “vulnerable” for the reader to “get” her?
Why can’t Chessie just eat people because that’s what she wants to do?
I wrote about the female characters on The Walking Dead because I have lots of feelings about them (Team Carol! Team Andrea! Team Feminism!) and because a lot of people watch this show and I think it’s important to recognize how these characters are perceived in a societal way. I DON’T KNOW I’M A GRAD STUDENT WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO DO? The Female Gaze was nice enough to run the piece a few hours before the show aired.
Case in Point: last night my roommate had a bunch of people over to watch the mid-season premiere of the show, and I was kind of shocked at all of the bad-mouthing going on about the women on screen. There were lots of “dumb bitch” and “stupid ho” comments flying around, but I chose to sit there in silence with my beer because I hate to alienate people over my feelings in regards to fictional things (HAHA AMIRIGHT?) But really, I think there’s something to be said about the ways even fictional women are perceived, especially by other women - most of those comments came from the other women in the room.
Also, this is the wicked-awesome leather vest I mention in the essay, so if you’re NOT Team Andrea, I just can’t even.