A young woman navigates uneasy relationships with herself, her weight, and the world in Awad’s painfully raw—and bitingly funny—debut.
When we meet Lizzie March, she’s in high school, fighting the profound boredom of suburbia and adolescence with her best friend, Mel. “The universe is against us, which makes sense,” she observes. “So we get another McFlurry and talk about how fat we are for a while.” Later—the novel is told in a series of self-contained vignettes, snapshots of Lizzie from fat adolescence into thin adulthood—we watch Lizzie spend a tortured afternoon trying to take an acceptable full-body shot to send to her online boyfriend; we watch her date, or sort of date, a sleazy jazz harmonica player (“Archibald doesn’t take me to dinner, but I can be naked in front of him”). Lizzie becomes Beth, graduates from college, eats tiny salads; loses some weight, and then some more, committed to never being hungry for anything. Increasingly thin, she marries a man who fell in love with her when she was fat, and we watch him wish, sometimes, that she were still that girl: now, Elizabeth’s life—by this point, she’s Elizabeth—is dedicated to the maintenance of her hard-won figure, displayed in tight, joyless cocktail dresses. She’s trapped by her body, whatever size she is, and the shame of her own physical existence is isolating, a lens that filters every interaction. But it’s too simple to say that this is a novel “about” body image and self-hatred and the systemic oppression of women (though that wouldn’t be totally wrong); in Lizzie, Awad has created a character too vivid, too complicated, and too fundamentally human to be reduced to a single moral. Lizzie's particular sadness is unsettlingly sharp: she gets under your skin, and she stays there.
Beautifully constructed; a devastating novel but also a deeply empathetic one.