Kirkus Reviews QR Code
APPETITES by Caroline Knapp


Why Women Want

by Caroline Knapp

Pub Date: May 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-58243-225-2
Publisher: Counterpoint

Final memoir from the late Knapp (Pack of Two, 1998, etc.), this one recording her decades-long struggle with anorexia.

As she did in Drinking: A Love Story (1996), the author makes connections among different kinds of addictive behavior, be it self-starvation, getting blind drunk, or compulsive shopping. But rather than narrowly focusing on the behaviors, Knapp delves into the question of appetite as a symbol: why women suppress their “wants” in the first place. At 19, a junior at Brown, she began the spiral into anorexia. After spending Thanksgiving with her family, she returned to the campus to write a paper, but was too anxious and depressed to walk to the student cafeteria for dinner. Instead, Knapp purchased a container of cottage cheese and some rice cakes, stretching the small meal over the next three days. That purchase, she writes, “represented a turning point, the passage of a woman at a crossroads, one road marked Empty, the other marked Full. Not believing at the core that fullness—satiety, gratification, pleasure—was within my grasp, I chose the other road.” What caused this choice? Knapp explores her relationship with her mother (somewhat distant, but not terrible by any means); media messages (women do internalize these messages, she notes, but not all of them become anorexic, so the media by itself isn’t entirely to blame); and cultural trends from the Me Generation to the extravagant dreams of the ’90s. After years of therapy, the love of her celebrated canine, rowing, and a solid romantic relationship, she finally chose to re-enter the world. Knapp concludes by saying that contemporary women live during a time when they may be psychically liberated, able to have careers and make reproductive choices, but are not socially supported; for all the rhetoric, women still do most of the housekeeping and parenting. Her beautiful prose is bolstered throughout with nice anecdotes from research material and the author’s personal experiences.

An eloquent voice that will be missed.