Like hunger itself, this memoir gnaws at you. I could hardly put it down, Hunger is so spellbinding.
Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body isn’t for everyone. It’s raw, it’s heartbreaking, and it gets inside your head. That’s because Gay lets us inside her head with such courage and humility it turns the experience of reading into something more.
Published in 2017, Gay writes about being a very large black woman in a world that does not accommodate her body. By “very large,” I mean she’s taller than most women (6’3″) and hundreds of pounds overweight. She likens it to being trapped in a cage, a cage of her own making.
Why is Roxane Gay morbidly obese? Part of her book explains. She was gang raped when she was 12, and she proceeded to eat and eat and eat until she disappeared, a perception some women have just for the fact of their gender, some black women have for the fact of their race and some overweight people feel from a society that worships all that is young and thin. Some of gawk and mock, and some of us simply look away.
The rest of her memoir describes what it is like to live in a world that mostly makes space only for people of normal size but also what it is like to live in her mind, which constantly chastises her. Some reviewers have called out her writing as repetitive, and especially when we get a glimpse inside her mind, it is, but I found it to be truthful and almost poetic.
I started Hunger as an audio book, and hearing Gay’s story in her own voice makes it even more engaging. I then realized I also had the book in hardcover, so I switched between media depending on whether I was in the car or reading in bed. I highly recommend the audio book if that’s your jam; it was transportive.
I came away from her memoir with so much compassion for her and for people like her, the victims of sexual abuse and the victims of too much eating. Before she came out with Hunger, Gay was probably better known as a cultural critic and a feminist. Hunger showcases some of those perspectives, too, but the telling of her story is also deeply personal.
I wish this was a book for everyone, because men should understand how their depravity can have long term consequences and all Americans could probably benefit from walking a few steps in the shoes of a morbidly obese person, but alas, I don’t think a lot readers really want to know the horrors of rape and the weight of, well, weight. Such things are more comfortable left unconsidered. But if you have the courage to witness Gay’s wisdom and bravery, you’ll benefit from the enlightenment.