Ingredients: One part favourite teenage Mills and Boon (however corny); two parts bad body-image issues from Bridget Jones’s Diary; one-third parts each of forced situations, some wit and a happily-ever after.
Method: Put it all together and stir till you get sufficient word count, throw in windingly random chapter-heads, misquote the epigraph (a quote from Anais Nin, no less),find a dogged agent and you have Liza Palmer’s Conversations With The Fat Girl.
Okay, so we all know about America’s obsession with looking good and, more importantly, being thin. There is nothing new there. And there is nothing new in Palmer’s attempt at exploring it either.
Palmer’s protagonist, 27-year-old Maggie has always been fat. At 12, she found her soul mate in fellow fat girl Olivia. And now at 27, Olivia is a coveted size four — thanks to surgery — and about to get married to the perfect Ken doll while Maggie still shops in the section for large women. Maggie, however, has also graduated in art history, works at a local barista and lives with a dog. Cute.
But wait. If she has an art history degree, a supportive family, is good at what she does and is fairly intelligent, what is Maggie doing in the speakeasy pining over a good looking waiter who moonlights as a sculptor? The answer, then, is what Palmer’s self-flagellating novel totters on. And on.
Maggie’s story is all about how she realises she has outgrown Olivia’s friendship, and learning to be comfortable with being “fat”. The problem is that at 27, Maggie’s reactions, logic and life are at best adolescent, at worst, plainly stupid.
With a narrative that swings between days at a San Francisco school where Maggie was avoided because she was fat and the present where Maggie avoids everyone else because she is still fat, Conversations is one long chasing-its-own-tail tale. Instead of a regular progression of her growth, there’s just this one iteration, reiteration and further annoying reiteration of a singularly simple fact: Maggie is living like a loser because she is fat.
That, incidentally, is another dichotomy on its own, because the book is peppered with instances that suggest that Maggie only thinks she is fat and is not actually so.
To cut a short story shorter, this book has nothing new to offer. In the end, Maggie breaks free of Olivia’s friendship, gets a job at a prestigious art gallery, a kiss from lover-boy and a weight-loss membership at the gym. Heck, why didn’t she do all that right at the beginning?