Heavy Duty


Chick lit, dick lit, buppy lit, mommy lit. Thanks to this “First Fat Fiction Anthology,” we can now add “chub lit” to the growing list of niche fiction. Editors Donna Jarrell and Ira Sukrungruang don’t load down this 30-story collection with a complex critical apparatus. In a brief intro, they explain their motivation: They are both fat (actually, they describe themselves as “corpulent, encumbered with excess flesh”) and wanted “to illustrate the range of ‘fat experience.’ ” The “range” is somewhat restricted, since the editors limited themselves to contemporary fiction and poetry (no Falstaff here). Luckily, they uncovered a handful of good stories that include at least one obese character. There’s the sweet, long-suffering virgin in Junot Diaz’s funny-sad tale, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” whose protag’s life is transformed for good (and bad) by a trip to the Dominican Republic. Then there’s George Saunders’s “The 400-Pound CEO,” which begins with the mass murder of raccoons and ends with someone going to jail, and offers a first-person narrative by an ever optimistic, if extremely overweight, company man.

As if to compensate for the weighty topic, many of the stories are so light as to be insubstantial. But in a few cases the subject matter incites marvelous flights of fancy, as in Peter Carey’s 1993 tale, “The Fat Man in History.” Set in a society in which obesity has been denounced as counter-revolutionary, the rotund narrator and five fellow rebels vow to eat the enemy. Certain themes appear throughout—cruelty by others being the most frequent, with lovelessness and loneliness a close second. By grouping these stories in such a narrow, literal way, the editors effectively stomp on some of the stories’ deeper resonances—and also lose the chance to take a broader look at how appetite, desire, and body image play out in fiction.