Warm, witty first novel of romance among the unromantic at Columbia University; the humor and benignly distant narrative tone are the reassuring tip-off that we're not talking realism here: The angst-ridden, drug-using, emotionally traumatized characters will grow up without coming to real harm. Plump Manya Mittelman is in danger of becoming truly fat. Passing through college in total isolation, working weekends at a large-size boutique (Zaftique), unappreciated by her dieting feminist English professor (an expert on a Victorian novel absent not just from the canon but from all of N.Y.C.'s libraries), she retreats into bulimia. (Secret bingeing ``at first...filled the absence of companionship when companionship was desired, and ultimately...made the absence of companionship itself something to be desired.'') Then Manya's claimed as a friend by Ophelia, who actually thrives at college: ``a chic little self-destructive vampire'' who displays ``the thin scars on her inner wrists as if they were diamond bracelets.'' After Manya is seduced and abandoned by Ophelia's cold and posturing sort-of boyfriend, as well as pursued and then rejected by her boss at Zaftique, she falls back on the comfort of food, even as everyone continues pondering the nature of love. Meanwhile, Ophelia is orchestrating a demonstration to culminate in her own public suicide, though pregnancy pulls her toward life. She's delightfully upstaged by Manya, who leads other fat women in a spontaneous revolutionary act. By this charming novel's end, ambivalent, abusive, and irresponsible men see the light—and these thoroughly contemporary characters pair off in the most old-fashioned way.
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