...a bracingly vivid account of how intellect, emotion and physicality speak to each other and work in tireless tandem to not just survive unspeakable hurt, but to create a life worth living and celebrating. The critical beauty of Hunger is that Gay is so much smarter than everyone who has judged her based on her appearance, which she manages to convey without airs or ever actually stating this as fact. Her candor and self-awareness are necessary and reliable guides for the poignantly afflicted journey ... Undestroyed, unruly, unfettered, Ms. Gay, live your life. We are all better for having you do so in the same ferociously honest fashion that you have written this book.
At its simplest, it’s a memoir about being fat — Gay’s preferred term — in a hostile, fat-phobic world. At its most symphonic, it’s an intellectually rigorous and deeply moving exploration of the ways in which trauma, stories, desire, language and metaphor shape our experiences and construct our reality ... Gay wrestles her story from the world’s judgment and misrecognition and sets off on a recursive, spiraling journey to rewrite herself. The story burrows in on itself while expanding exponentially ... With this book, she reclaims the body, reclaims the right to be seen and heard for who she (really) is.
Confessional memoirs often seem to spring from a hope that when a writer shares a painful experience, readers will not only be informed, they will be inspired to overcome their own pain. But Gay is not here to confess. Nor does she indulge in the promise of improvement or even inspiration. There is no successful therapy or diet or life-affirming meditation practice in Hunger. Hunger is a walk in Gay’s shoes, a record of the private pain of the endless and endlessly mundane inconvenience of travel through a world set up for people who move through the world differently than you do ... Gay describes herself as 'self-obsessed,' but she has written a memoir that never slides into narcissism. On the contrary, the movement of her thought and prose is open and expansive. Gay writes of extreme obesity with such candor and energetic annoyance that her frustration with herself and with the world around her attains universality. She writes about rape and its aftermath with such wounded, intelligent anger that a crime we are used to seeing primarily in sensational form on television becomes our reality as well as hers. That is a very generous act.
Gay presents these ideas with a light touch. The closest equivalent to the book’s tone is that of a ghostwritten celebrity autobiography: gossipy and full of minute and sometimes banal detail. Although warm and accessible, her prose is also uneven, bland, and cliché-prone. She writes flat, unshowy sentences: When it works, there’s an enjoyable clarity and impassiveness to her delivery; when it doesn’t, it’s mundane and repetitive. But a critique of her style would be elitist and pointless—her many fans love her regardless, and her work does not ask to be read as literary ... It may be true that, in order to get her message across, a public figure should strive to be relatable to as many people as possible. But what does this rule of relatability do for a writer whose message, whose life experience, is the painful difficulty of relating? The answer is that it tends to compress it into an unsynthesized mass of minor contradictions, leavened by fun observations about TV shows and given gravitas by the undeniable suffering of the author ... unexamined contradictions mean that despite the book’s confessional nature, it never fully explains Gay’s distinctive sense of her body as the outer expression of an inner wound.
Hunger is Gay at her most lacerating and probing ... If this seems like so much guilt-inducing drudgery, it’s not. Anyone familiar with Gay’s books or tweets knows she also wields a dagger-sharp wit ... Early in Hunger, Gay writes, 'The story of my body is not a story of triumph.' No one should interpret that to mean this is a story of defeat. Gay has done much more than survive, despite events that could have destroyed a weaker heart and soul. She has persevered and succeeded not just as a writer but as a woman coping, on her own terms, with scars both forced and self-inflicted.
...a deeply honest witness, often heartbreaking and always breathtaking ... Self-doubt and loathing become a corporeal presence that hounds her and at times overwhelms the reader. There are few chapters or even pages where Gay doesn’t criticize herself. By the middle of the book it felt relentless, so much so that I wrote in a margin, 'Lord, help her find peace.' I hadn’t become insentient to her pain, but I had become weary of the self-flagellation ... Hunger is about Gay’s craving and the way the culture denies it. It is a clear-eyed assessment of a life crippled early. Gay is one of our most vital essayists and critics.
While Gay is grappling with a painful, first-person story, she gracefully weaves in the sharp commentary that she’s come to be known for ... She relies on the repetitive descriptions of her rape and her brokenness in a way that might in other circumstances seem gratuitous, but which in Hunger serves to give readers some emotional insight into the unrelenting nature of trauma. Woven into this repetition is a ruminative preoccupation with strength, in all its varieties ... Hunger is arresting and candid. At its best, it affords women, in particular, something so many other accounts deny them—the right to take up space they are entitled to, and to define what that means.
Hunger wears its identity politics—fat (the term she prefers), female, Haitian-American, queer—proudly, and Gay is a fierce, if not always focused, critic of the casual cruelties and willful ignorance obesity still elicits. Her writing can feel circular and sometimes contradictory, but the book’s short, sharp chapters come alive in vivid personal anecdotes ... And on nearly every page, Gay’s raw, powerful prose plants a flag, facing down decades of shame and self-loathing by reclaiming the body she never should have had to lose.
We all need to hear what Gay has to say in these pages. She reminds us that 'all of us have to be more considerate of the realities of the bodies of others,' that we need to transform public spaces and attitudes to make our world more welcoming and accessible for every living body. Gay says hers is not a success story because it’s not the weight-loss story our culture demands, but her breaking of her own silence, her movement from shame and self-loathing toward honoring and forgiving and caring for herself, is in itself a profound victory.
Some of the liveliest prose in Hunger can be found in her previously published takedowns of the 'weight-loss industrial complex,' in which she points out the depraved strategies of The Biggest Loser and of life-style deputies like Oprah and Kirstie Alley ... Several times, Gay writes a version of “I’m a mess.” There is occasionally something proud, almost, in Gay’s lethargic prose, as if to focus on language would be beside the point. But there are a few moments when Gay gives us a glimpse of the deeper account that Hunger might have been—one in which she pursues, rather than merely dispatches with, the contradictions that have so painfully defined her life.
...it’s hard to imagine this electrifying book being more personal, candid, or confessional ... The story of her body is, understandably, linked to the story of her life; she tells both, and plumbs discussions about both victims of sexual violence and people whose bodies don’t adhere to the ideal of thinness. In 88 short, lucid chapters, Gay powerfully takes readers through realities that pain her, vex her, guide her, and inform her work. The result is a generous and empathic consideration of what it’s like to be someone else: in itself something of a miracle.
At times, reading her essays, I’ve longed for her to bring more nuance or rigor to the act of disclosure. But in Hunger, Gay discovers what might be her ideal form and mode: a sustained, vulnerable striptease—revelation’s slow burn. It is in a book like this that her gift for dramatizing the breaking of silence can take priority over what she says ... the connections between her rape, her eating habits, and her body seem fertile and complex in ways that don’t always feel fully unpacked. Cause and effect are elided...I found myself wishing that a book-length exploration of the author’s hunger would examine every inch of this terrain, not merely skim it ... Empathetic representations of this disorder in nonfiction are scant. Unfortunately, instead of bringing her compassionate observation to bear on a syndrome that too often goes unacknowledged, Gay presents reams of what feels like her attempts at self-justification ... In her memoir’s loveliest moments, Gay seems to transfuse what she relishes about her physical self into her prose. 'I have presence,' she observes. 'I take up space. I intimidate.' Her best sentences embody this account of her body: They possess majesty and resonance. They are direct and undeniable, a powerful physical manifestation.
Gay’s tone shifts between a breezy, conversational style and something harsher, and she recounts painful events in short, almost incantatory sentences ... Gay alludes to or summarises difficult conversations, but rarely recounts them in full, and the overall effect is often one of claustrophobic intensity, as if the reader is trapped inside her head much the way she describes feeling caged in her flesh. Some of the book’s repetitions may be due to its origin in shorter pieces written for various publications, but most reflect the near-constant frustrations of living in a body the world both fixates on and refuses to accommodate.
Gay has always mined her personal history for material without looking for pity or absolution from her reader, and while her spare, utilitarian prose could be conspicuously undecorated in her recent collection of stories Difficult Women, here it helps her avoid melodrama and the fundamental fallacy of writing about sexual violence ... It's an interesting twist on an American Dream story—less about what a person does to achieve success and more about the things that hard work and talent can't necessarily fix ... Because of her spare prose style, Gay has a tendency to reduce the views of her opponents or adversaries to unnecessary simplicity, and she is equally prone to making totalizing statements about herself, her likes and dislikes, and how other people see her. As a result, she often ends up being the one rejecting nuance. But it's more forgivable in Hunger—she is dealing with the tangible facts of her life ... she is an adamant voice for the world most others either ignore or fetishize, and Hunger shines when she focuses on the conditions, whether systemic or personal, that have created that world.
The book is essayistic, built of clipped personal stories and cultural observations. We find repetitions and stutter steps, a deliberate circling of the truth to get to the truth. There are, in fact, few full-blown scenes; instead we encounter mere touches of landscape, spare indications of weather, little recorded dialogue and few dominating characters … But there is more one senses, so much more, and if one grows slightly frustrated by that which remains off the page, one must remember as one reads that Gay is focused on her body, that she is writing about hunger, about violations, about the sanctity and sanity of resistance, that she has something to say about seeing and being seen … She deserves the final word.
The great strength of Hunger is in Gay’s unflinching look at herself and her life ... The great weakness of Hunger is that what might have made a knockout 40-page essay is instead a 307-page book, one that had me writing in the margins, 'Yes, you told me.' There is a good deal of repetition ... maybe it’s churlish to attack the grammar of a book that seeks to establish a connection with those suffering emotional wounds. One could argue that a writer of Gay’s prominence has a heightened responsibility to her craft; on the other hand, her fan base surely cares more about what she says than the way she says it. And for those who hunger for her message, she probably can’t deliver it often enough.
...searing, smart, readable and sometimes unbearable memoir ... Hunger, like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, interrogates the fortunes of black bodies in public spaces ... Memoir — a view through the narrow aperture of self — can be as forgettable as the flotsam of Instagram, but Hunger has the power to disturb and linger.
Hunger is also a brave book because it fits no preconceived template. 'This is not a weight-loss memoir,' she writes early on. The arc of Gay's story is toward greater physical and emotional health, but it is a slow one, not the crisis-and-conversion tale of a stereotypical recovery memoir ... it succeeds in illuminating the painful Cartesian predicament of the very overweight person: Am I this body, or am I separate from it? Do I have to love this body that causes me pain today before it can change to a body I love more?
Hunger, is a radical book. It challenges readers to recognize and reassess cultural norms through the lens of personal experience. It is a book that insists that human bodies are worthy of respect regardless of their size, and that although our culture moralizes and pathologizes bodies that are fat, the presence or absence of fat has no bearing on a body’s essential value ... Hunger is an intimate and vulnerable memoir, one that takes its readers into dark and uncomfortable places. Gay examines wells of trauma and horror, not sparing her own self-loathing from her forthright analytic eye. But all the while, she insists on her right to be treated with dignity.
Her spare prose, written with a raw grace, heightens the emotional resonance of her story, making each observation sharper, each revelation more riveting, and also sometimes difficult to bear ... there is triumph in the end, not because Gay's is trauma forgotten. But because she is on her way to healing, and she has invited readers to join her ... It is a thing of raw beauty.
Hunger recounts not just how Gay became obese but how the world treats her because of what she calls her 'unruly body.' She writes piercingly about everyday humiliations, small and large. She writes about the determined exercise and dieting that help her take off substantial amounts of weight — and about the ways she puts it back on ... Hunger is not an easy book to read; Gay tells us it was excruciatingly difficult to write. But her ferocious, unstinting intelligence addresses this topic in a way rarely seen. What she gains, she tells us at the end, is a measure of catharsis. What we gain is seeing not a fat person, but a person.
Of course we already know there will be no reveal, no 'after' shot of improvement. And this may be why this book is so unputdownable ... This isn’t to suggest the book lacks Ms. Gay’s signature humor, although it appears less frequently than her readers may have come to expect. The serious tone in a writer known for humor is to be credited, there’s less to hide behind ... The book isn’t perfection unbridled, either. There’s a great deal of repetition, in words and ideas. And while the reiteration has some artistic merit given the circular nature of the problem, it’s overdone. There are also techniques of the essayist used here — summarizing and telling — that don’t serve a memoir ... Nonetheless, Roxane Gay is using her platform to share a story she didn’t have to, a story that would otherwise have gone untold.
Much of what Gay writes is repetitive; she writes around difficult topics, and this opacity—or desire, in some cases, to hold back information from the reader—can undermine a story that is, at other times, bold and confessional. Many of the chapters are meditations on one feeling or another, and these overlap in their ideas and tone … Gay’s work is most compelling when she tells specific stories from her life, as she does with her original trauma, subsequent moves around the country, relationships and experiences in academia. The strength of Gay’s storytelling talent shines in those moments; the specific seems more universal when given the weight of detail.
Hunger isn’t a telling of what it’s like to live in a body that’s merely overweight, obese, or even morbidly obese. Gay’s specific story is of how she came to be super morbidly obese, and all the ways it’s colored her present-day psyche, identity, and feminism, as well as her personal and professional life … I loved Gay’s analysis of the weight loss industry, framing shows like Fit to Fat to Fit and The Biggest Loser as anti-obesity propaganda that exploit people of size and tout the message ‘that self-worth and happiness are inextricably linked to thinness’ … Gay’s body memoir is unique because it makes no promises of a triumphant weight loss success story. Instead, the book offers honest testimony detailing nearly 30 years of various unhealthy relationships with food, family, friends, lovers, and self, all leading up to a breaking point that (hopefully) helps her change course.
The book explores, frankly and in detail, what it’s like to live in a body the world feels entitled to judge. In a culture that relentlessly shames fat people, it’s an act of courage for anyone Gay’s size simply to write honestly and without apology about her physical existence. But she goes much further here, confronting the traumatic roots of her condition and revealing her ongoing struggle to make some kind of peace with her body and with her own emotional and physical hunger … The primary struggle in Hunger is the one within Gay herself. She describes a continual tension between her desire to inhabit a smaller, healthier body and her desire to remain protected by the ‘fortress’ of her fat … As an account of human strength and creativity defying cruelty and pain, Hunger is a hopeful, even inspiring book.
In the memoir, Gay is vulnerable and honest in ways we’ve come to expect in her work. What sets Hunger apart is the amount that we learn about Gay’s personal life and the events that shaped who she is and the body she is in. At times, it felt like we, the readers, did not deserve to hear these stories. The chaptered bursts of memory, events, and self-reflection are so intimate that reading them felt like listening in on conversations one can only have with people one trusts deeply. Yet by the memoir’s end, I wanted to be the person who deserved to hear these stories. The vulnerability in Hunger hit me hard and I think that’s intentional. By allowing herself to be vulnerable in her writing and in this memoir, Gay allows her readers to be vulnerable, too.
Gay clearly understands the dynamics of dieting and exercise and the frustrations of eating disorders, but she also is keenly in touch with the fact that there are many who feel she is fine just as she is. The author continues her healing return from brokenness and offers hope for others struggling with weight, sexual trauma, or bodily shame. An intense, unsparingly honest portrait of childhood crisis and its enduring aftermath.