13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl in addictive short stories

Mona Awad's debut fiction takes an increasingly painful look at a girl from Mississauga

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl


By Mona Awad

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl may not actually contain 13 modes of dissecting our culture’s fascination with and aversion to fat women, but it does brisk work in making readers feel as if they know what it might be like to be a female with weight issues. This is a very good book of short stories from a very good writer—a linked collection that is addictive, while at the same time, like any addiction, increasingly painful.

We follow the protagonist from when she is a bushy-tailed fat girl in Mississauga, Ont.—Misery Saga, she calls it—“bent over the oven, hands swathed in chef-hat-shaped mittens, praying aloud that you like Banana-Rama bread,” to a goth fat girl abandoned in her bedroom by an infinitely cooler friend, now tearing her way “through the takeout she left behind,” to the less-fat girl of a still-fat mom, slenderness aggressively shown off in a mom-bought crop top, and “pink strappy heels from Payless that are like a shoe version of a Frederick’s of Hollywood thong.” Toward the end of the book, we endure the tortures of the once-fat girl, who now seems to spend most of her waking hours unhappily tiding herself over with dessert-flavoured chewing gum, cupcake-scented lip gloss and YouTube binge sessions of Nigella Bites.

Awad is not afraid to—indeed seems to relish—trading in grossness, mixing fish guts and bloody sex in one story, or cunnilingus and gloppy lunch foods in another. The shock value wears thin, but with an observational eye this sharp—Awad is wonderful at noticing the “scentless pine tree” dangling from a taxi’s rear-view mirror or the piece of  “vaguely vaginal” abstract art hung uselessly in the back of a shop—you swallow the bile. What becomes less easy in the last few stories is the way 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl— like its protagonist—steadfastly refuses to deal deeply with much that is not directly connected to calories or muffin tops or the awful necessity of shopping at Addition Elle. By mid-book, you know you’re in very talented hands, and you begin to hope they’ll take you somewhere else. Something to look forward to, then.