I Wish I Could Leave It at That

Adam Dalva in Guernica:

Roxane Gay’s Hunger is very, very good—the rare memoir that doubles as page-turner. I’m writing this on a flight (Gay’s passages on airplane issues are some of her best: the seatbelt extenders, having to buy two tickets) and the woman across the aisle is reading Difficult Women. “Book Twins!” she just said happily. This never happens. That Gay has reached so many is testament to her skill with empathetic connection. She writes early in Hunger that her “life is split in two, cleaved not so neatly. There is the before and after. Before I gained weight. After I gained weight. Before I was raped. After I was raped.”

I don’t know how to talk about rape and sexual violence when it comes to my own story. It is easier to say, “something terrible happened.”

Something terrible happened. That something terrible broke me. I wish I could leave it at that, but this is a memoir of my body so I need to tell you what happened to my body.

We are pulled in by the repetition, as we are by Gay’s hesitance. Hunger reaches this most difficult part of its narrative early, after a sequence of short introductory chapters: Twelve-year-old Gay falls in love with a boy. The boy brings her to a cabin where his friends are waiting, and a horrible sexual assault takes place. It remains secret. “All too often, what ‘he said’ matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection.” One beautifully depicted consequence of this infection: Gay eats, hoping to disguise her body, disappear into armor. “I don’t know how I let things get so out of control, but I do.” She eventually weighs 577 pounds.

More here.