The Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe
Foreword by Alix Kates Shulman
Spanning the 1890s through the 1990s, this unique, daring, and vital collection explores the many psychological and emotional tensions in women’s relationships to—and perceptions of—their physical selves. Addressing the peculiarities, the delights, and the shames of body politics that reside in the flesh, these stories of bodies that refuse to be contained deftly and astutely comment on popular notions of acceptable body types and behaviors.
With tender lyricism, acclaimed author Mary E. Wilkins Freeman examines the feelings of an obese woman forced into the humiliating role of circus freak in order to pay off family debt. In “The Stout Miss Hopkins’s Bicycle,” the title character suffers the indignities of the most recent weight-loss craze, only to discover love where she least expects it. For the women in “The Feeder,” eating becomes the only form of control they have in their husband-dominated lives, until they can relate to one another as allies rather than enemies. The confident woman of Hollis Seamon’s title story nurtures her ever-expanding body while providing nourishment to a young woman struggling with anorexia. Even as some women starve themselves to squeeze into socially proscribed roles enforced by the men in their lives, so too do women intentionally and methodically eat in order to burst those same constraints. For some women, fatness is an isolating and powerless position; for others, like Eliza in “A Mammoth Undertaking,” gaining weight is a choice, a self-gratifying process that leads to transcendence.
Often witty, sometimes painful, and always revelatory, the stories in this anthology offer a measured assessment of the rules, unspoken and otherwise, that govern women’s bodies. Whether celebrating bodies deemed transgressive or simply acknowledging that such bodies exist, the volume’s diverse literary representations of fatness render these bodies brilliantly, unapologetically visible.
"The lives and loves of fat women have been invisible in plain sight for far too long. Here they are—an exhilarating, revelatory, century-spanning array."
"Each story is a gem. . . . This is a valuable and viable literary collection that expands our understanding of the other 'F' word: FAT."
"Reading this book is a bold act of liberation from the insane culture which promotes body hatred. The stories light the way for women to celebrate their beauty—fat, thin, or in between!"
"Every woman should read this book. In fact, so should anyone who's foolishly worried about gaining five pounds. Buy this book, eat what you like, and your dinner table conversations will never be the same. This book is a feast of knowledge for students and scholars in literature, women's studies, American culture, and American life."