Roxane Gay – Extreme Candor

Roxane Gay is a genius, a tremendous writer. She’s a feminist, a public intellectual, and has a narrative voice that resonates in your head. Read her and you hear her.

Gay’s book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, is powerful account of Gay’s body and her relationship with her body. Gay is fat – she frames the book and her body through her weight. She gives us a clear sense of the problems, the challenges, the difficulties of being fat. Her tone is spot on, with candor, frustration and humor. The world is unkind to fat people. More often than not, we are judgmental, mean and inconsiderate to the fat.

As the book unfolds, Gay shares that she is a sexual assault victim. Her description of that trauma is haunting and enraging. It’s horrific and a deep betrayal. There are many connections between the trauma and her body, her life and her sense of self – but this is not clinical study. She knows that she gained weight to protect herself. The assault changed her relationship with her body, with food, and with desires. Gay opens up about herself, sharing her strengths and vulnerability. It is extraordinarily intimate writing. Gay knows that her bulk is both protection and a prison. There’s no resolution, no pat observations. This is not a book about weight loss. It is about Gay and her body, and a voice that shares what it is like to be Roxane Gay.

We will be reading and re-reading Hunger for decades. It’s very accessible writing, an almost deceptively straightforward first-person account. But it is also painful and uncomfortable to read at times. Reflect and it opens up many threads. The book’s engagement enables great empathy, at a personal and societal level, calling into question judgements and assumptions. It hammers home the complexity of trauma, the layers upon layers of intertwined history, identity and response. It resonates philosophically, not only with mind-body duality, but also through basic questions of epistemology. What do we know, who do we know – and do we know ourselves?

As readers we may not really know Roxane Gay. We know what we read, and with that, its limitations. What I do know – after reading Hunger I have tremendous respect and admiration for her. And I want to read more of her work.

David Potash