After recounting her experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome in National Book Award nominee Passing for Normal (1999), Wilensky now chronicles her younger sister’s struggle with obesity and its impact on their relationship.
The author has two stories to tell here. One is of growing up with Alison, only 13 months her junior, who’s fat and then becomes thin through gastric bypass surgery. This story is animated with telling detail and wry humor as perfectionist, bookish Amy and exuberant, nonconformist Alison play and scrap and share as sisters growing up in the ’70s. The second story, unfortunately, is not one the author seems well equipped to tell. She does recall herself as a picky eater and Alison as a voracious one, but she professes not to have realized that her sister was becoming fat or to have noticed until high school that Alison was a secret binge eater. As to why her sister ballooned into obesity as a teenager, Amy offers only her belief that Alison was “born with a biological imperative to gain weight.” The sisters’ lives took separate paths after high school, and outside of a glimpse of Alison coming into her own as an artist at the Rhode Island School of Design, her interior life is not revealed. The author gives lectures on the proper etiquette when confronting fat people, but no insights into one particular fat woman; similarly, she provides information on the gastric bypass procedure Alison chose to have in her late 20s, but nothing on her sister’s reasons for choosing it. After shedding nearly 200 pounds, Alison also doffs her dark, shapeless clothes and starts life over in form-fitting hot pinks and lime greens. It would be nice to hear what the flamboyant former fat girl has to say about her transformation, but readers won’t find it here.
Funny and affecting in parts, but on the whole disappointing.