tl;dr: formerly overweight woman is plagued by high school broken heart
Finishing this book was a struggle.
I’m not totally sure if it’s because the ‘women’s fiction but not romance’ genre, otherwise known as chick lit, is just not for me anymore, or if the book is actually not that good. I didn’t connect with any of it, and not because the gist of the story wasn’t interesting. It’s because the actual story fell very flat for me, mostly because I kept getting pulled out of it by visceral disgust or general disagreement with some of the things that were plied off as truth.
The F Word is apparently a follow-up to Conversations with a Fat Girl, which I didn’t read. That story is about Olivia’s friend, and while Olivia is a character in that book, the friend at the center of the first book is barely even mentioned in this one, which is what it is. This book takes place ten years after the first one. Olivia has been living in her Hollywood life with her doctor husband and working in a PR firm for celebrities. We are supposed to be making parallels between Caroline Lang, Olivia’s actress client going through a divorce, and Olivia herself. They both maintain an icy I’m-better-than-you demeanor, although it’s hard to tell from Caroline whether she means it or if it’s just a coping mechanism left over from her lonely childhood. Olivia, on the other hand, is just mean. She’s mean to her socialite couple friends, and makes very little effort to have friends of her own. She seems closer to her mom and her mom’s friends, although she doesn’t bare herself to anyone. Literally. She’s been married ten years and her husband has never seen her naked.
And the husband. Well, it turns out that he’s been having a variety of affairs for years, and they haven’t even had sex in two years. And she’s fine with it, because on the outside, their marriage looks perfect. It’s only when she runs into her high school crush, Ben Dunn, that she apparently starts to unravel. She calls it her “Fat Me” coming out, which I think is the most absurd way to try and get across the idea that she felt more at home in herself when she was fat. The way that it comes across is nearly that she is battling two personalities within her, and therefore she doesn’t take much personal responsibility for either the life that she’s made for herself or the person that she used to be.
She does blame herself for her marriage falling apart, but I didn’t feel like she tried very hard to set things to right, even with shouldering some of the blame. Adam seems sort of willing to work things out, although Olivia never comes out and tells him what she wants (namely, ending his affairs. Tell him! If he refuses, then divorce). And then, Olivia lets herself be swept up in a romance with Ben, which seems entirely ridiculous. Evidently, he wanted nothing to do with her when she was fat, and now that she’s not, she’s miraculously desirable?
I didn’t like the way this book was written. It is first person, and in present tense, but the writing tends to take on this stream-of-consciousness vibe. I had a hard time keeping up with who was speaking when, as many of the quotations skip around all over the place. But some of the random bits of this book seemed to come out of nowhere and didn’t fit the flow of the book. However, the part that nearly made me quit was in the very first chapter:
I look at my hands. Light pink nail polish. I isolate my index finger, grab the perfect fingernail, and pull. Pain. Blood. Immediately. I pull a tissue from my purse and wrap my finger in it.
Just, what the hell? This isn’t a precursor to a book about someone that self-harms either. Just that section was enough for my to DNF right on the spot, but I kept going. Honestly, I skimmed large sections of it just to finish this review.
This book could have been pretty decent. I liked the idea that someone could have a ‘perfect’ marriage and realize how awful it was and how it was their own fault that they’d ended up in this unfulfilling life. But that’s not what this book was. This book was that two awful people were mean to each other in high school, after failed marriages and weight changes they reunite, and decide to give it a go? Because she loved him in high school and her entire life is predicated on that. From the sounds of it, they barely knew each other in high school. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop about what exactly happened between the two of them in high school that was so awful, but it never came.
For other (better) books about heroines who deal with weight and body issues, see Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed.