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Hunger Pointby Jillian Medoff
Synopses & Reviews
A Conversation with Jillian Medoff
"Hunger Point is an incredibly powerful novel about a young woman's struggle to come to terms with her sister's eating disorder, and how it forever changes her and her family. Where did you get the idea for the story?
As far as characterization, Shelly's story is closest to my own, but it was the entire family that really intrigued me. So much goes on in this family! I met Grace Paley who suggested that I write what I don't know about what I know, which really resonated for me. So I began to really get to know Frannie, who is hipper, funnier, and more fearless than I could ever hope to be. Many people think I'm Frannie, but I'm not. Books are funny that way. The story is not my story per se, but most of the emotional tension and dynamics are mine. In other words, I've had different experiences than my characters, but I can empathize with how they feel and why they act — and react — the way they do.
"Hunger Point offers a provocative look at a problem that affects countless women: the loss of self. Shelly loses herself in anorexia, while Frannie loses herself in men. Why do you think so many women suffer from a loss of self? Why do you think loss of self seems to be manifested in eatingdisorders more often in women than in men?
I've read a lot about the issue of the self — feminist theory, psychology, even religious ideology. An overriding factor that emerged is that women are given many mixed messages as children, and the imprints last long into adulthood. I believe that the self is a continually emerging and changing entity, but it needs a strong foundation to survive and flourish.
My own experience is that I was told to be independent and work hard and become a Supreme Court Justice, but I was shown by magazines, television, and movies, that I had to be thin and beautiful and I must — by any means necessary — find a man. So, in truth, my foundation was shaky to begin with and as I got older, I became more confused until I was whirling in an emotional vortex that was the result of an incredible void. I developed a coping mechanism — albeit a very destructive one — to fill this void, and while my eating disorder enabled me to function in the world, I paid a high price for it.
In terms of why women end up with eating disorders, I think there is a lot of pressure in our society to be thin. I support that's a cliché already, but aesthetic perfection has become a standard by which we measure ourselves and each other. Food is easy to abuse because you have to eat (unlike alcohol, which you can give upcompletely), it tastes good, and it is the basis for a lot of social interaction. When you feel you have no control over your life, you can control how much you ingest, which can give you a false sense of order. Like any other addiction, it can get out of hand when the behavior itself becomes the factor that defines you. I think women are subject to intense scrutiny about their bodies, which is why it may appear that eating disorders are manifested in women more so than men, but men too have their issues with food and body image. It's just not discussed as much.
"Hunger Point thoughtfully tells the story of a young woman's battle with anorexia, while pointing out — and brilliantly deriding — society's obsession with food and dieting. Do you think society's thinness obsession will ever taper off?
Not for awhile. The thinness issue is inextricably linked to the standards of beauty we currently uphold, as well as to our country's obsession with fitness. The former is the mood of our culture, and the latter is a good idea taken to a very dangerous extreme. Throughout history, different cultures — including our own — have upheld heaviness as a symbol of beauty, wealth and status. Then these standards began to shrink and keeping up with them has become a daily battle. It's like the entire country is engaged in a mad tango with our weight. We love to eat rich foods, but then we have to make up for it, and it's filtered to our children who see us grappling with eating potato chips: should I? shouldn't I? what are the consequences? Sometimes you have to take a step back and say "it's only food," but when you're doing the dance, it's so difficult to see clearly, and the battle assumes alife all its own. Furthermore, it's a battle you'll never win until you realize that the dance is about much more than just the potato chips.
The only way society's thinness obsession is on an individual level, but that takes a strength not supported by media images or current standards of beauty. Believing you're beautiful and successful regardless of your weight is a tough concept to internalize. Even after all I've learned about myself, I still sometimes focus on my weight. Last month, I was in a meeting with Regency Productions, the studio making the movie of "Hunger Point. The director, the screenwriter, and the producers were raving about the book and all I could think was, "Oh my God, I'm the fattest person in this room. Do they think I'm the fattest person in this room?" I'd give a body part to be able to wear low-slung Levi's and long, straight dresses because they look great on Sharon Stone, but I'm not built like Sharon Stone. And I have to tell myself, actually talk out loud, and say that maybe that's not such a tragedy, that maybe I can love myself for what I am and not hate myself for what I'm not. I have stopped my bulimic behavior, but I still default sometimes to my fat-thinking, not because it makes me feel good, but it's familiar, and as destructive as it is, I can block out all my worries by focusing on the size of my thighs. And once the music in my head starts to play, I can dance for days.
What was the most difficult thing about writing "Hunger Point?
There were many. One was fitting the book into my life, then once I crossed over into the parallel universe of the fictitious world I created, I had to fit my life into the book. I worked full-time as Iwrote the book, and being wickedly obsessive, I had a schedule: get up, go to work, go to the gym, go home, and write three nights a week and all day Saturday. "No deviations. With this schedule came many, many compromises. I had to give up intimate relationships because I was sleeping with this wonderful, incredibly consuming book. And sometimes the book didn't give back — there were times when I felt I was writing in this abyss. It was lonely and frustrating, especially since the only payoff was the writing itself, and sometimes that payoff isn't immediate. You have days when you're struggling to create, and then you have other moments (rarely days) when the vision is clear, the characters are alive, and the moment is sublime.
The other thing that was difficult was my own visceral reaction to the material. As I got deeper into the book, I started learning so much about myself and it was very painful. I cried a lot for my characters in ways I never cried for mys
"My parents may love me, but I also know they view me as a houseguest who is turning a weekend stay into an all-expense-paid, lifelong residency, and who (to their horror) constantly forgets to flush the toilet and shut off the lights."
Twenty-six-year-old Frannie Hunter has just moved back home. Bright, wry, blunt, and irreverent, she invites you to witness her family's unraveling. Her Harvard-bound sister is anorexic, her mother is having an affair, her father is obsessed with the Food Network, her grandfather wants to plan her wedding (even though she has no fiancé, let alone a steady boyfriend), and, to top it off, Frannie is a waitress who wears a dirty duck apron and serves plates of fried cheese to her ex-boyfriend's parents.
By turns wickedly funny and heartbreakingly bittersweet, Hunger Point chronicles Frannie's triumph over her own self-destructive tendencies, and offers a powerful exploration of the complex relationships that bind together a contemporary American family. You will never forget Frannie, a "sultry, suburban Holden Caulfield," who critics have called "the most fully realized character to come along in years," (Paper) and you'll never forget Hunger Point, an utterly original novel that stuns with its amazing insights and dazzles with its fresh, distinctive voice.
About the Author
Jillian Medoff is the author of the richly praised Hunger Point. A former fellow at the MacDowell Colony, the Blue Mountain Center, and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, she lives in Brooklyn where she is hard at work on a new novel.
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