In this debut memoir, Presa reflects on a life that included bulimia, homelessness, military service, motherhood, and complicated love.
The author says she struggled with her weight from a young age and developed crippling social anxiety that kept her from forging friendships. When she discovered bulimia at age 14, it seemed like an answer to her problems: she could continue to find solace in food, she thought, but avoid the weight that caused her to be ostracized. However, the sickness would become a lasting problem in her life, further complicated by the suicide of her mother when she was 15. After the author fled her deteriorating family, her life became a gritty procession of nights in tents, cars, and even caves. The cold and discomfort were still preferable, she says, to staying at her father’s house with her antagonistic stepmother. She impulsively decided to join the Air Force at age 19 after news footage from Hurricane Katrina convinced her to take a more active role in society. At 21, she married a man in the Air Force stationed in South Korea whom she’d known for four months “and had seen in person only a handful of times” and later had a child with him. In the Air Force, she found structure, friendship, and self-esteem, but she still made plenty of mistakes in life. Hurtling from one tenuous situation to the next, she had to discover the strength to save her own life. Overall, Presa is a talented writer, and with her punchy, maximalist prose style, she engulfs the reader in a sea of sharp observations and sardonic humor. For example, she begins her chapter about her Air Force basic-training experience with the line, “Nestled amongst the sobs and moans of misery of others, I smiled.” Unfortunately, though, this same maximalism extends to the excessive length of the memoir; at 588 pages, it’s twice as long as it should have been. Greater concision and more selectivity when choosing among her memories might have made for a better-paced and ultimately more compelling read.
A funny, affecting, but ultimately overlong remembrance of struggle and growth.