By Andy Andrews
Sometimes our cultural and environmental obsession with conforming to an idea of being “fit, not fat” — if we are out of shape and overweight, then apparently we are out of hope — forms the basis of a stunner of a story in this single-author compendium, a tale in BIG GIRL Plus called “The Pill.” Technology has eliminated the problems of being overweight by the simple ingestion of a “fat remover,” a one-stop, one-time technological answer to dieting. Overweight individuals need not worry after ingesting the pill, even though, for some, it can kill them. Yet there remains a sense of dysfunction, of personality issues created, a feeling of selling out, after taking it. One woman finds herself attracted to a man she meets after indulging in a calorie bomb at a pancake house, and travels with him to a unique club that offers a sense of culinary nostalgia, a sort of fat fetish, for those who enjoy plump.
In “Big Girl,” a young lady named Bianca Martinez is spotted in the San Francisco Bay. She is indeed quite large, standing at 370 feet and weighing about 100 tons. But she soon realizes every girl needs to feel pretty, and the media quickly names her “Baybe,” but in time she begins to shrink in size. Even after having her own baby, after all that recognition, Bianca finds out that fame is fleeting, because of her constant shrinking, leading to a definitive fall from grace.
I thoroughly enjoyed the poignant essay, “Gone With Gone With the Wind.” You have to read a story again and again, because it can achieve different reactions each time you read it. What I learned was how much the environment and white culture dramatically affects the author of the 1936 novel, GONE WITH THE WIND, American writer Margaret Mitchell and, of course, the protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara.
It’s almost ridiculous how much we have relegated white privilege to a scenario that is so much accepted background and sanctioned by the undiscriminating reader. Elison reminds us all to discriminate, to question, to re-read, to invest a lot more thought into what you read. The reaction to a book can vary from reading to reading.
It’s like taking a walk: you can always notice something you missed or taken for granted on a previous pass. As does Elison:
“It takes real work, as a white person, to realize the racism in which you have been steeped all your life. It takes rereading the texts you hold most dear. It takes literacy and critical thinking and listening to people of color to realize that not only is GONE WITH THE WIND fiction, but most of what you know is fiction. Your family history is fiction. Your elementary school textbooks are fiction. Your construction of yourself is fiction. We all have to read ourselves more than once. We have to proofread and edit ourselves. We have to rewrite ourselves every day. We have to learn to separate truth from fiction from fake news. This is a monumental task, and most of us will fail.”
Meg Elison is a San Francisco Bay Area author. Her debut novel, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award and was a Tiptree longlist mention that same year. It was reissued in 2016 and was on the Best of the Year lists from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, PBS, and more. Her second novel was also a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. Elison was the spring 2019 Clayton B. Ofstad endowed distinguished writer-in-residence at Truman State University, and is a coproducer of the monthly reading series Cliterary Salon.