Sometimes when I talk to my students about their writing, I use the metaphor of diving and gymnastics routines, and how they are often (or used to be) graded on a curve of difficulty. So a very hard routine that falls short still get high marks over all. So the student who tried to use the “Mandela Effect” as proof of a multiverse gets a lot of credit trying something audacious, even when it comes up decidedly short. And the student who writes an uninspired essay about the death penalty hits a wall, even when done well.
This memoir goes back and forth in this way. In some places, the writing (which is ALMOST always perfectly good) delves into these places of refusing to make a choice or come to a point, or worse relies on convention rather than insight. But at other times, there’s moments of real honesty and a refusal to engage in the conventional thinking and writing on the subject of weight and bodies. And so parts of this memoir are very good, and other parts are….fine…but ultimately don’t do much. And at times, there’s writing here that are just not part of this memoir. There’s a balancing act happening here that often but doesn’t always work between Roxane Gay’s body as sight of inspection and investigation and when the body refuses to be seen or discussed. Because this “balance” is often off, it feels out of sync with the book.
I think ultimately there is a lot of good in this book, very little bad, and a little too much in the middle…writing that more or less inoffensive, but otherwise bland or not moving the conversation forward much. This feels like a lot of hangups to put on the memoir, but when you are literary institution “Roxane Gay” it brings on that kind of attention. There’s some attempts in this memoir to say, but not be seen — raising questions that are really answers or using expletive and dismissiveness as way to not take a stand.