Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Skinny
Gray Lachmann’s life feels to her that it matches her name. Gray, gloomy, without hope. Gray is convinced that she killed her father and since his death, she has been unable to control her eating. She overeats. She eats compulsively. She binges. She eats in secret. She eats without thinking about what she is eating, without tasting the food. Her boyfriend, Mikey, a stand-up comedian, does not seem to notice or care about her weight gain. But she does. Gray feels her father’s presence all the time, as though he transferred his own obesity to her when he died. Up to that point in her life, she was like her thin, calorie-counting mother.
Gray’s father did not approve of Mikey for a few reasons, not the least of which was the uncertainty of his career choice and the fact that, when Gray’s parents met Mikey and attended one of his early shows, he bombed miserably — on both accounts. So it had been a few years when Gray finally agreed to meet her father at his favorite steakhouse to celebrate her lunch. The conversation did not go well and the meeting ended tragically.
Now Gray is determined to understand why she cannot stop eating, so she gives up the career she has forged for herself, packs all of her belongings — leaving nothing behind in the apartment she has shared with Mikey for several years — and takes a job as a counselor at Camp Carolinas, a weight-loss camp. She will eventually find that her lack of experience as a camp counselor doesn’t matter because none of the other staff members are experienced or certified in their particular fields of presumed expertise, either. What she hopes to find over the course of the summer is not just a newly svelte figure and renewed control over her eating. She hopes to also find the truth about her father’s life and legacy, why she still feels so connected to him, and how to live with the guilt she feels about his death. Most of all, she needs to find the path to her future.
Review:Author Diana Spechler possesses the rare ability to delve into the most painful aspects of her main character’s life as she is surrounded by an eclectic group of supporting characters, all of whom are in a preposterous and often hilariously funny setting. Yet she never loses focus on the key premise of the story: What is the void in Gray’s life that she is seeking to fill with food? And if food stops serving as the filler, what, if anything, will effectively replace it? Can Gray ever be emotionally whole and satisfied with her life?
Gray is assigned a group of campers with various personality defects that have caused them to become fat and socially inept — or is it the other way around? — over whom she is to watch with her co-counselor, Sheena, a street-wise, tough, nineteen-year-old that the other campers immediately find cooler than Gray. The camp is run by Lewis, who is overweight and out-of-shape, but insists that his “program” will, over the course of the next eight weeks, have his campers returning home fit and lean. Nurse is also overweight and surly, but affectionately so. And then there is Bennett, the resident physical fitness instructor, who is forty-one years old, in excellent shape, and christens Gray “Angeline.” Before long, their mutual attraction inspires Gray to sneak out of the dorm where she is supposed to be available in case her campers need assistance during the night and into Bennett’s room where they embark on a summer-long affair. Given her surroundings, Gray’s obsession with food soon yields to her compulsive relationship with Bennett, and she quickly loses the extra weight, a fact Bennett appreciates and repays with uninhibited passion. But can their relationship survive the onset of autumn and the inevitable return to their real lives?
Skinny is about longing — longing for food, longing for another person — and about how different kinds of longing can get mixed up in a person’s mind.~ Author Diana Spechler
Gray arrives at camp and reports for the initial weigh-in wearing a drab, brown, one-piece bathing suit. Ironically, the girl Gray believes is her father’s secret love-child, Eden, arrives wearing precisely the same suit, thereby cementing her belief that the two of them are half-sisters. She intends to tell Eden, but first she wants to get to know her. As the summer progresses, she sees a gesture here, a look there that convince her she is right about Eden’s parentage. And as Gray and the other campers lose weight and become more comfortable with their bodies, they gradually peel off the extra layers of clothing in which they arrived, along with their inhibitions. They gradually form bonds, and come to care about each other, as is demonstrated upon the departure of the summer’s first casualty, Spider, following a severe allergic reaction. But summer camp is not reality . . . and Gray dreads the end of summer, and the conclusion of her respite from her real life and its responsibilities. Since the story is told from Gray’s perspective, it is encouraging that she recognizes part of the reason why the campers are shedding their fat clothes is that they are surrounded by other folks facing the same challenges and they are all learning to accept each other. She acknowledges that things will not be the same when summer ends and they all have to resume a normal existence. Gray especially dreads having to face the truth about her relationship with Mikey, whom she believes has no idea about her duplicitous conduct.
Eventually, Gray learns the truth about her father’s life and the events that forever changed him, and caused him to alter his own career path. She comes to understand why her mother has dealt with her father’s death in a manner she initially found surprising. And she comes to grips with her own emotional needs and the reasons why she attempted to satisfy them with food, as well as through her sexual relationship with Bennett. The inevitable confrontation with Mikey brings clarity to their relationship, allowing Gray to move on.
Skinny is based, in part, upon author Diana Spechler’s own ten-week experience working at a weight-loss camp. Hence, the realistic and often outlandish portrayal of the campers and staff. More importantly, however, the book grew out of her observation that most of the people she knew had “body-image issues or unhealthy relationships with food” and the various ways those issues were manifested and impacted their lives. “I felt desperate to explore it,” she writes.
For folks struggling with their weight, there are many characters and situations in Skinny that ring true, sometimes painfully so. Gray is empathetic because, at the age of twenty-six, most people are searching for answers that will give them the freedom to move forward with their plans and dreams. In that way, her struggles ring true. The book’s ending is somewhat ambiguous and can be interpreted differently, depending upon the reader’s reaction to Gray and what she has learned during her summer at camp. One thing is for sure: Skinny is a thought-provoking, yet often funny, exploration of very serious matters.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Skinny free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of Skinny, graciously provided by the author.
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