[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]
Mona Awad’s debut collection of shorts that sort of becomes a novel. I read a Penguin Books first edition paperback from the library.
Buy the Book.
1 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
A cruel, vain young woman never takes responsibility for her life, has no honest connections, and sees everyone as a threat.
I don’t know what 13 Ways is trying to do. I think it hates everyone and hates me for reading it. I went in optimistic – I was a morbidly obese teenager who managed to get my weight somewhat under control in adulthood; I understand how the “fat girl” label and mentality stays with you forever. I believed this story would touch on some of those emotions.
From the description (the cover quote by Aimee Bender brightly announces: “This book sparkles with wit”) I expected a caustic but smart narrator in the style of Ottessa Moshfegh or Halle Butler. 13 Ways doesn’t deliver. Eleven of the thirteen chapters are told from Elizabeth’s point of view, but two are from men in Elizabeth’s life (one a musician fling; the other her husband who the book can’t settle on a characterization of. I think he’s supposed to be a “nice guy”, but his drunken drive to a co-workers house for a totally fucked up reason is never properly addressed or resolved). I can’t find a reason for this flip in perspective coming only twice. At the beginning, I assumed each chapter would be from a different point of view, one of “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl”, perhaps. But we only ever see one way of looking at a fat girl: a sexual object.
Elizabeth’s only concern with her weight seems to be a fear of not getting laid. But she has more sexual partners by the time she’s in her twenties than I’ll probably have in my entire life (not judging, actually sort of jealous). And she’s more bold in initiating them than any woman I’ve known – “fat” or not. This could have been awesome and empowering, but we’re still supposed to see her as pathetic and gross (?).
She is the cruelest person in the story. The way she thinks about other women – friends, strangers, her mother, co-workers – holds no satire or smarts or commentary. She just calls them whores, sluts and cunts. No one ever insults her outright, she never discusses the struggles of being large outside of finding clothing (which, honestly, appears to be the real thesis of this piece). Was Mona Awad ever actually overweight? It’s such a bizarrely narrow and nasty view. Namedropping bands and songs doesn’t establish a personality.
Throughout the book, Elizabeth changes the preference for her name: Lizzie, Beth, Elizabeth, Liz. I think this is supposed to imply that she’s inconsistent (?) and always trying for a new identity because she’s unhappy with herself (?). I don’t know. Her husband finds it supremely irritating but wanting to be called a different thing isn’t crazy or outlandish. People sometimes want a different name – that is absolutely fine. The only thing the name-changing does for a reader is make it seem like this book is constructed from disconnected stories about different women with similar names. The only connective tissue is her cruelty. Continue reading