Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"The Fat Girl" (1977)

Read story by Andre Dubus online.

Andre Dubus is a man, and even when he wrote this story in 1977 attempts to adopt the point of view of the other gender were considered problematic, especially a man attempting to represent the point of view of a woman. I note this in passing, as I thought this story was good and so have others—it's considered one of Dubus's best and has been widely anthologized, for example in two of the three collections I'm covering. I mention it because it did trouble me as I read. I kept looking for reasons not to believe it, and was never entirely convinced. At the same time that it might be weak on women's experience, it's pretty good on overeating and problems with body image. Louise has been overweight since she was a girl, and she suffers the implicit and explicit criticisms of family and friends. In her senior year of college, her best friend Carrie helps her get on and stay on a weight-loss diet, and she loses something like 70 pounds in a year's time. She keeps it off too—has sex for the first time, marries, gets pregnant. Now all her friends and family are implicit and explicit about their approval of her new body and life. Once pregnant, however, the cravings to overeat again return irresistibly, and Louise gives in to them, putting 50 pounds back on, which remain after the birth of her son. She's not even trying anymore, and all the criticisms return, her husband perhaps the worst of all. In fact, the marriage is doomed because of it. As the story ends, she has fully accepted it: "She knows [her husband] will leave soon. It has been in his eyes all summer.... [S]he feels his departure so happily that, when she enters the living room, unwrapping the candy, she is surprised to see him standing there." This is another short story I think falls within the oversize shadow of Raymond Carver. It's marked by the monumental yet mundane struggles most people are engaged in for meaning in life: looking good to others, winning the approval of others, feeling the love of others, all of it in the context of "ordinary" lives. There is a sense of an inescapable emptiness inside everyone, and an attitude, or hope, that redemption is possible, somehow. But it's elusive. They are almost clichés now they are so common in short stories since about 1970, but when they are done well they can be tremendously moving and poignant. There's a lot of that in "The Fat Girl." Still, the gender problem continued to worry me. In areas such as the relationship between Louise and her mother, or Louise and her girlfriends in high school and college, I remained skeptical. It felt real—it's a good story—but I could never entirely shake the skepticism.

American Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks

The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, ed. Tobias Wolff

1 comment:

  1. There must be some female writers who have addressed this in short story form too, no? Gaitskill? O'Connor? Walker? Anyway, I'd be curious ab possible comparisons and their views ab the credibility of Dubus's story. Not that I don't think a man who has been close to a woman who had weight and/or body-image issues couldn't tell an interesting version of this story but it seems only natural to wonder how the story might differ from more first-person accounts.