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REVIEW: Fat by Saranna DeWylde

fat dewyldeDear Saranna DeWylde:

You and I both know that I’m a fan of your work – from the “How to…” series to the Desperate Housewives – I love them all. I was both thrilled and curious to see that you were coming out with something a little bit different, something that might even be considered a touch controversial – body image. This divisive topic is one that can be amazing if handled well, or utterly disastrous. To pair that with a contemporary romance is a somewhat risky proposition. It’s my not so humble opinion that you not only handled it well, you blew it out of the water.

fat dewyldeMeet Claire, the healthy, beautiful fashionista entrepreneur who just so happens to be larger than the media says is acceptable. All of her life she’s heard the standards, from “you’ve got such a pretty face,” to “you’re pretty, for a fat girl.” If there’s been a way to draw attention to weight and body size, Claire’s heard it. While she’s happy sharing a dwelling and companionship with man-whore exotic dancer Kieran, it’s not the intimacy of a romantic relationship. It takes Kieran’s night with Claire’s best friend, April, to open Claire’s eyes to the fact that she’s got romantic feelings for her roommate. But is it too late? Kieran’s introduced Claire to his coworker, slightly vertically challenged nice guy, Brant – and he’s really not as bad as she’d imagined. April’s had a ride on the Kieran-pony, and she’s now the one with the bit in her mouth (metaphorically, I promise). Can there be a chance for love when two people who are certain they’re broken collide? Can Claire take a leap of the heart as she’s taking a leap with a new business?

Sometimes, the hardest thing we can do is take a good, long, hard look in the mirror at ourselves and our preconceived notions. It doesn’t matter the size or gender, people are bombarded daily with ideas of what they “should” look like – in the stores, on television, on the side of a passing bus. And even those who find themselves on the more extreme ends of “don’t fit the stereotype,” those who feel marginalized, can be just as guilty of falling into the generalization trap. “Fat” does a beautiful job of not only reflecting that back, but also applying the soothing balm to that decided discomfort afterward. If I had to distill the message down to something simple, it would be “be you.” That’s it – it’s that simple.

I adore the secondary characters and loved following their stories right along with Claire’s. Kieran is one of my favorites. Those who work in the adult entertainment industry, whether it be on the pole or on camera, tend to be sensationalized as the ideal, physically. They’re perfect. They’re desirable. They’re for sale to the highest bidder. Kieran doesn’t do anything at all to disprove these notions and serves as an almost perfect foil for Claire. Claire is the woman who hides her insecurities with laughter and a glorious, outrageous sense of fashion. Kieran is the man who hides his (feelings and … other things) in every woman he comes across. It’s as though, while he’s unashamed, he realizes that his behavior is a coping mechanism. Here is this supposedly perfect man – and he’s in pretty much the same boat as Claire. April is another character who seemed to have it all – beauty, brains, men falling at her feet. Yet she, too, was struggling. I looked at April and went “I know her!” There were some eerily familiar notes resonating throughout the book that had me putting it aside to do some serious thinking.

But, lest you think I’m going to focus just on the “hard” parts of the book – never fear! The thoughtful parts were well balanced with witty, snappy dialogue, glorious clothing descriptions (I’m in no way, shape or form fashion-conscious, and even *I* wanted to head to the Chubbalicious website to order clothes – I’m so sad it’s not real), and the sense of fun and wonder that comes with a journey of self-discovery. It wasn’t just Claire’s journey – it was mine, as well. You managed to drag me out of my own world and drop me squarely in Claire’s – you made me care.

And that, to me, is worth the price of admission anytime. A-

Your Devoted Reader and Critic,

Mary Kate

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Guest Reviewer

19 Comments

  1. JPeK
    May 30, 2014 @ 08:11:24

    Sounds really good–I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for the review!

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  2. Junne
    May 30, 2014 @ 08:36:15

    So, another fat woman paired up with a 6-pack man? Fat men get no love in romance :(

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  3. JPeK
    May 30, 2014 @ 08:57:33

    One of the details that pulled me in and made me want to read the book is that one of the male characters is “vertically challenged.” I love short heroes! Even if he isn’t the romantic lead (I can’t tell based on this review and others on Amazon, and I’m okay with that because I want to read this one spoiler-free, I think), I do appreciate that not all of the male characters completely fit the so-called “ideal” just as the female MC does not (and that this very thing is a conscious theme in the book).

    I appreciate any story, but in particular romances, that don’t get too caught up in describing the MCs as looking “practically perfect in every way,” especially when “perfect” is such a subjective concept. Realistic men and women make excellent characters, IMO, and variety is part of that!

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  4. Eliza Evans
    May 30, 2014 @ 09:27:01

    This sounds wonderful! Can you clarify, though, if there’s weight loss talk? Does Claire have to lose weight to get her happy ending? Thanks!

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  5. JRB
    May 30, 2014 @ 09:49:04

    @junne I struggle with the whole “fat woman paired up with a 6-pack man” thing too. It just feels a little hypocritical of us (women in the romance reading community) to be all excited about having “realistic looking” MC women but at the same time demanding all the men be super fit. And I actually find it a little sad that we would say that a short man is even remotely comparable. It’s like saying Hollywood isn’t looks obsessed because Tom Cruise is short. I’ve actually found myself pretty actively avoiding books with larger women just because they’re always hooking up with the 6-pack man. I don’t read m/m but can you find m/m stories with one of the MC not having a smoking body? And no: a scar doesn’t count.

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  6. LG
    May 30, 2014 @ 10:02:38

    @JRB: “I don’t read m/m but can you find m/m stories with one of the MC not having a smoking body? And no: a scar doesn’t count.”

    Yes, you can. Of the top of my head, there’s Pricks and Pragmatism by J.L. Merrow. I’m not anywhere I can access the book at the moment, but I remember the guy the main character ended up with as being scruffy and a little pudgy in the belly (not fat, but no six-pack abs either).

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  7. JPeK
    May 30, 2014 @ 10:23:05

    @JRB: I also agree that it is unfortunate that more books don’t feature non-6-pack male characters (I should have made that clearer in my previous comment–apologies). This conversation makes me think of how frustrated I get with the trend in other forms of media (particularly TV and film) to constantly show men with less-than-”ideal” weight constantly pairing up with “hot, wonderfully fit” women. I think we all do an injustice to each other if we constantly ignore the reality of our bodies, in all their variety.

    I probably got more caught up with height for two reasons: 1. I myself am only 5’1″ (barely) and I get really tired on the “Wow! You’re really short!” comments and getting treated like a child by some people rather than as the 30-year old woman I am. 2. In this particular book, both male characters are exotic dancers (right?), so I sort of understand why the author would choose to portray them as muscular and fit. In this case, the description fits the characters and the story–there’s a reason for this portrayal.

    Yes, some m/m fiction features male characters with various body types (which I love–Pricks and Pragmatism is a good example), but even many of those books fall into casting only “gorgeous” men with only the firmest of stomachs. Urgh. I’ve read some where the characters are self-conscious of their weight, others where they could not care less, and some where they revel in their bodies. Unfortunately, no titles are coming to mind at the moment. Sorry.

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  8. Megan
    May 30, 2014 @ 11:06:56

    First, I would LOVE to see more representation of fat men in the genre. I completely agree about that.

    On the flip side, however, I feel as a fat woman that it’s important to see examples of fit men being attracted to fat women. Because that’s an actual thing that happens in real life. Because fat bodies are attractive. This might be a whole different discussion but there is a lot of shame for thin or fit men who are attracted to big women. But in my experience I’ve found that when the situation is reversed, there is no shame, rather a sense of victory that a regular old guy “scored” such a hot girl. Maybe that isn’t your lived experience. I don’t know.

    @JRB @JunneI can name scores of examples from TV and film and real life where fat men are paired with beautiful women (Kevin James’s character in the movie Hitch comes to mind) and I actually don’t mind that, but there are so few examples of fat women with fit men. When I find those examples I’m overjoyed. I actually started reading romance again because I stumbled across a list of plus-size heroines. And yes, I think most of those heroines ended up with fit men.

    I’m not really disagreeing with you here, I don’t think. I just wanted to add in my two cents. More characters of every shape and size! Diversity in literature is never a bad thing.

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  9. Megan
    May 30, 2014 @ 11:07:52

    Welp. First time commenting and I sure messed up ^

    Sorry.

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  10. cleo
    May 30, 2014 @ 11:11:03

    @JRB: There tends to be a wider range of valued body types in m/m (from twinks to bears), and I’ve read quite a few m/m with heroes with normal bodies, ordinary builds, squishy stomachs, etc – although I’ve also read a lot with heroes with ridiculously hot bodies too. At least in m/m, it’s more common to have a built hero who actually works for his body – whose regular workout routine is at least mentioned in the story.

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  11. Kim
    May 30, 2014 @ 11:32:06

    @Eliza Evans: She does not have to lose weight to get her happy ending. It’s not really a typical “happily ever after” ending, though. It isn’t a cliffhanger, but I was left feeling there would be another book (or that there should be) to follow Claire’s journey.

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  12. Kim
    May 30, 2014 @ 11:46:32

    I think the mention of Brant being “vertically challenged”, specifically, is because he’s 5’6″ and the heroine, Claire, is 5’10″ and 260 pounds (if I remember correctly). So, she’s not a “delicate flower” heroine making Brant noticeably shorter than she is. I liked this book a lot.

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  13. Susan/DC
    May 30, 2014 @ 11:55:48

    Perhaps there are more heroines in romance novels who do not fit neatly into the Perfect 10 category but who nonetheless are matched with gorgeous heroes because romances are mostly written by women. On TV or in the movies, it’s the reverse because the movies are written/directed/produced by men.

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  14. Sunita
    May 30, 2014 @ 12:01:28

    I haven’t read this book but I read DeWylde’s memoir of working in a prison (written under a different name) and I really liked her writing. I’m definitely buying this one, I trust her to handle difficult subjects well.

    Great review, Mary Kate!

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  15. Janine
    May 30, 2014 @ 12:13:52

    Carla Kelly wrote a book (m/f) where the hero was both balding and paunchy. I believe it is Miss Billings Treads the Boards. I haven’t read it, but I have it in the TBR pile.

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  16. Cynthia Sax
    May 30, 2014 @ 15:40:53

    I’m a BBW, happily curvaceous, and my dear wonderful hubby is extremely fit. It isn’t an unrealistic pairing.

    However,
    Speaking as a reader
    Romance is fantasy for me. A good looking, muscular man (preferably a man who can have sexy times with the heroine against the wall or in the shower or in the elevator or…) is my fantasy. (I also prefer that heroes are rich because being broke certainly isn’t something I dream about.)

    Speaking as a writer
    If a writer is tackling body image issues, then this usually means focusing on a couple (or more if the relationship is a menage) with very different body images (both internal and external). Their differences create conflict. You get the plain heroine with the handsome hero, the curvaceous heroine with the hero sporting washboard abs.

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  17. Mary Kate
    May 30, 2014 @ 22:43:36

    @Eliza – one of the beauties of the book is that no, Claire doesn’t have to lose weight to get her happy ending! All she has to do is be herself.

    @Junne – That’s an excellent point, and one I hadn’t really considered. The first book that comes to mind, right off the top of my head, is Dakota Cassidy’s “Accidental Werewolf 2: There’s Something About Harry.” The male lead doesn’t start out as Mr. 6-pack. In fact, I don’t think he ever gets there, even WITH the new fur and fangs package. But you’re right – I’d like to see more “real” men, as well. Sometimes, like @Cynthia Sax, I like the fantasy of a strong, fit, alpha male. And sometimes, I’d love to see more men like my wonderful husband (round, furry and smells like laundry soap, according to him).

    @Megan (and everyone else) – thank you so much for the comments! I think it’s amazing to see such great discussion on the topic, from both sides. :) And @Megan – you didn’t screw up. There’s no such thing here!

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  18. etv13
    May 31, 2014 @ 04:01:44

    I didn’t like Claire much, I didn’t like the way the story treated April or Kieran, and I thought the development of the business was paper thin. There was all this focus on the website and the promotional aspects — but Claire is supposed to have designed these clothes, right? We never get anything about the design and manufacturing of the clothes, beyond Claire saying she guesses she should call “the supplier.” Likewise, Brant’s family apparently isn’t at his graduation, and there isn’t even a hint of an explanation. The intense focus on Claire’s weight and self-esteem issues left the story feeling really unbalanced and not well thought through to me. Also, I’d say that this is much more of a coming of age story than a romance.

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  19. Junne
    Jun 02, 2014 @ 04:49:57

    Just wanted to say that I’m not attacking this book in particular, just commenting on a trend in romance.

    @Cynthia, when I was (much) more curvier, I was often attracting thin men (one of them even proposed – and I had a good 40 pounds on him) so of course I’m not saying only fat men are attracted to fat women or the opposite. I just want to see more fat men in romance, because I ( and plenty other women) find them attractive and worthy of love.

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