FAT WOMAN by Leon Rooke


Email this review


Rooke is the author of a variety of competent but undistinguished short stories (The Broad Back of the Angel and other collections), and this first novel--little more than a character study of a fat, unhappy, not-very-interesting Southern housewife--reads like a short-story inflated far beyond its natural dimensions. The fat woman is Ella Mae Hopkins, seen here through the course of a day or so in her ramshackle little house, feeling an ""impending doom. . . more like a shadow hanging over than any specific something she could put her finger on."" Could it have something to do with her sore finger, ugly and swollen and maybe gangrenous from the war between fat and wedding-ring? Or with husband Edward, usually so cheerful accepting but now acting strangely? (Not showing up for work at the lumberyard, doing something; unsightly with wood and nails in Ella Mac's room.) And, as Ella Mae wanders around the house and yard--taunted by her two bratty sons, sniped at by neighbor Eula, comforted by the radio--she slips into memories: of her courtship and early marriage, of her mother, and of her sadistic father, the apparent (simplistic) source of her compulsive eating (""Down on your knees, girl, and keep licking my boots until you learn to stop knocking over your glass""). Finally, however, there's a bit of movement: Ella Mae's terror escalates during a nightmare car-ride with the boys and a fed-up Edward--who is now ready to force Ella Mae to lose weight, for her own good. A thin scenario--and Rooke's approach to the material seems to be a shifty mix of gushy sentimentality and superior scorn, with only a few welcome flashes of humor. Overextended and sometimes overwrought (""the mouth opened and kept on opening, massive, filling the enormous pit that was her stomach until mouth was all there was: black vast hole, darkness without end, commanding Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!""); not untalented, but far from satisfying.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1981
Publisher: Knopf