MY OTHER BODY: A MEMOIR OF LOVE, FAT, LIFE, AND DEATH by Ann Pai (Sunspot Press)
I suppose, in light of all the bogus (or exaggerated) memoirs being churned out over the last few years, I was subconsciously hoping for a true, heartwarming memoir from a self-published author to blow me away.
This one blew my mind.
Ann Pai pens a masterful--dare I say masterpiece--story in her touching and soulful memoir, MY OTHER BODY. The story revolves around the author and her sister, Joyce, and their relationship from childhood through adulthood, and the wreckage created and left by Joyce's battle with (and ultimate death from) obesity. With the growing concern with obesity (particularly in the United States) the story is more than haunting; it's a siren song. At Joyce's nadir, she is over 500 pounds--but through Ms. Pai's prose, we can see and feel Joyce as a svelte youngster, the innocent clay before it is dry and breaking.
Speaking of prose, the writing here is absolutely magnificent (and I'm not just comparing it to the 200 books I just passed on prior). From the initial pages, we get a sense of the tension to ensue:
Joyce saves the stories of my babyhood the way Mama hides linen company napkins. Safe is dark cedar, they require purposeful retrieval.
. . .
She tells me that Mama caught her standing over my crib with the billy club that our Uncle Harold gave her. Mama took the club away and went to see Uncle Harold with it. "Were you going to hit me?" I ask.
"Probably," she says, and shrugs. "Yes, I was."
Some of the most compelling and telling points in the book are the interludes of what is happening, physically, as a result of the disorder:
She wakes from her dream into her fat, the way yeast wakes inside dough. Dreaming, she had no gravity, no hesitancy.
. . .
She's never really done eating. She eats until interrupted. The phone rings, or the garage door opens and her husband is home, or she must leave for work.
She eats so that she can't be caught, eats only enough so she can't be detected--only enough cookies so the remainder can't be counted at a glance, only enough corn chips so that the bag isn't flattened.
The memoir is rich, powerful, and--most of all--bittersweet. And, unlike most memoirs, this one has an unexpected twist. MY OTHER BODY manages to entertain without ever getting whiny and woe-is-me-ish, or ending with everyone wearing a size 6 and partying in trendy nightclubs. Read a true (true!) story of a real battle with obesity, and unlike the drug and alcohol memoirs (especially the bogus ones), you can read about an issue that likely affects one or more people in your very own life--and answers some questions as to why New York is trying to regulate trans fat.
I am an author and instructor, in that order (for now.) My debut novel (which debuted in the midlist) was released by Penguin Putnam in 2004 and my second novel was released early 2006.
As for this blog, it has been profiled in many online magazines, blogs and news stories, including the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, the LA Times and Publishers Lunch.
To answer the deluge of questions I have been receiving from publicists: I'll review pretty much anything that is good--but it better be good, or I'll never look at another one of your books again. Then I'll hunt you down. Fiction preferred (no fantasy or young adult, go easy on the science fiction.) Non-fiction should be memoir, humor, self-help. Definite no-nos: cookbooks, textbooks, porn, books without verbs. And it must be POD (no small presses.) Otherwise, email with pitch first.