Let me start by saying, thank goodness there are people like Roxane Gay in the world today.
Last year, I read her collection of essays, Bad Feminist and fell in love, not necessarily with the book, but with Roxane herself. I needed this book. As a person who feels like a walking contradiction a lot of the time (I pride myself on being a feminist, and then very seriously beg my husband to clean my hair-clogged drain because ‘he’s the guy’), I felt relieved to hear that someone as fierce as Roxane isn’t perfect either (she is most definitely a feminist, but also loves rap which often contains misogynistic lyrics). It sounds silly to say, but in a world where we constantly point fingers at one another, this means something.
The book also put me in front of a mirror and re-think my stance on certain subjects. I was ashamed as I read the essay on The Help where Roxane dives into the stereotype of “black woman who offers sage advice” and reveals the racism that still lurks in The Help, regardless of it’s outward appearance against it. I had loved The Help. And my favourite characters were Aibileen and Minny for their spunky personalities and yes, their wisdom. Roxane points out that these stereotypes were written by a white woman, largely based on her experiences having black women work in her household as a child. It put the book into a different context for me.
I began listening to Roxane’s interviews, and consulting her Twitter for no-bullshit commentary on the entire Trump situation. When her upcoming book, Hunger was announced, I wrote the release date down immediately. The book was said to be a memoir of her weight. For anyone who has read Bad Feminist, you will immediately recognize this topic. Perhaps the most powerful essay in the book, is when Roxane reveals how she came to be a “fat woman”. At 12-years-old, she was gang-raped by her boyfriend and his friends. She goes into very little detail of the horrific event, but explains that afterward, when she could not bring herself to tell anyone what had happened, she began to eat. If she became larger, she would be protected, both based on her physicality and because the boys would no longer find her desirable. Hunger takes this essay, and turns it into a memoir. A memoir that will break your heart.
I read Hunger with an unbelievably heavy heart. I dreaded the scene where the actual rape would take place, and cried at my desk as I read it over my lunch break. What followed were years of pain and incredible amounts of self-doubt. I could have underlined the whole book if I were to note all the parts that spoke such fearless truth.
Hunger is about weight, yes and about sexual assault, yes, but it is also about a million other things. It is about understanding, self-worth, fear, the overcoming of fear, the lasting effects of trauma, the love and strength of family, the perseverance and tenacity of the human spirit.
When I finished, I handed my copy to a coworker and couldn’t put my thoughts into any cohesive description. I said I found it so affecting, so raw, so brave, so important. “It stirred you,” he said. And I couldn’t possibly put it better if I wanted to.
This book is exceptional. Roxane Gay is exceptional. Read Hunger, and be stirred.