13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
After reading one of the stories in this collection through the Season of Stories initiative, I decided that I would be interested to see how the whole collection held together. I was intrigued by the premise of a series of short stories that form one coherent narrative and wanted to see how Awad had achieved this in her writing. In ‘Full Body’, I had found Awad’s style to be engaging with a strong character voice; reading the whole collection I found this to be still true, and I enjoyed discovering the wider context of ‘Full Body’. However, I should say up front that although I enjoyed the writing and the world of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, I did find that some of the stories were more sexually explicit than I was comfortable with.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a collection of thirteen short stories following the life of Lizzie (Beth/Elizabeth/Liz) as she navigates platonic, romantic, and familial relationships whilst also dealing with conceptions about her weight. The reader gets to see Lizzie struggle with her weight as an overweight young adult as well as how her insecurities from that time still define her even after she has lost weight.
The real draw of the collection is in the character of Lizzie. Flawed, insecure, and full of hopes, she is engaging and frustrating in equal measures. Whilst not all readers will relate directly to Lizzie’s struggle with her weight and being defined as a ‘fat girl’, her relational trials and triumphs make for compelling reading. Her relationship with her divorced parents and the friendships she seems to struggle to maintain are moving and real, with these themes recurring throughout the overarching narrative of the collection.
Although most of the stories in this collection are from Lizzie’ point of view, there are a couple that give the reader another perspective. I found ‘She’ll Do Anything’, the story from Tom’s point of view, to be one of the most moving as it details the pressure Tom and Lizzie’s marriage is under now that she is obsessively losing weight. Awad does a good job of making it clear that there are mistakes being made by both parties, but their ultimate unhappiness is that the issue of Lizzie’s weight has become the only aspect of their marriage they can focus on.
This was a short fiction collection which I enjoyed, but not necessarily one which I would recommend without a few comments. As previously mentioned, there were more sexually explicit scenes particularly in some of the earlier stories than I was comfortable with and as such I would be wary of recommending it to others. However, I still felt that Awad’s writing was strong and engaging, and, taking it as an entire collection, I came away fairly positive after finishing.