Synopses & Reviews
It was that simple . . . So begins Marya Hornbacher's heart-wrenching account of her through-the-looking-glass love affair with hunger, drugs, sex, and death. " I look back on my life, " she writes, " the way one watches a badly scripted action flick, sitting at the edge of the seat, bursting out, 'No, no, don't open that door!'" But open that door she does; and we follow her through, into a wonderfully scripted, alarming, all-American story. At the age of five, precociously intelligent and imaginative, Marya returned from a ballet class convinced that she was fat. By age nine she was secretly bulimic. When she was fifteen she pledged allegiance to anorexia, taking great pride in her capacity for self-starvation. The back-and-forth shuttle between bulimia and anorexia continued until she was twenty years old and fifty-two pounds in skeletal weight--through six hospitalizations and one involuntary commitment, endless therapy, the loss of family and friends, countless tests and diagnoses, miscarriages . . . and all the deceptions necessary to maintain her drive to rid herself of her body.
At twenty-three, a recovering Marya Hornbacher (" It's never over. Not really." ) looks back into the fun-house mirrors of her first twenty years and gives us a fearless, vivid, compelling reconstruction of what she sees there . . . of who and what she was. She balances the tangle of personal, family, and cultural factors underlying eating disorders with carefully researched findings on bulimia and anorexia. Hornbacher's story is one of a young woman in free fall toward death, told from the perspective of one who has found a way to turn back to life. Thislandmark book " is an unexpected instant classic that demonstrates how brilliantly told personal stories can still have great impact and value." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Topics for Discussion
1. In an interview with Elle magazine, Hornbacher said, " The book does not end with the end of the eating disorder, it ends with a turning point." How would you describe that " turning point" ? What other turning points does the author describe in "Wasted, and what were their outcomes?
2. To what extent do you think Hornbacher, at twenty-three, has achieved an understanding of her lifelong problem? Do you think she understands some areas and issues more fully than she does others? Are there any phenomena or implications of her eating disorders that she does not confront or understand?
3. Hornbacher writes that eating disorders are " a response, albeit a rather twisted one, to a culture, a family, a self." What personal (biological and psychological), familial, and cultural roots of anorexia and bulimia emerge from Hornbacher's history of her eighteen-year battle? What phenomena does she single out as being most significant?
4. In what ways does Hornbacher maintain and expand upon her main metaphor of a looking-glass world? What specifics of reversal and inversion give us a sense of an anorexic and bulimic young woman's world?
5. What role do secrecy and deceit play in the progression of eating disorders? How and why are bulimic and anorexic children so adept at concealing their behavior?
6. To what extent are anorexia and bulimia associated with a desire to control one's own self and the behavior of family members and acquaintances? Towhat extent do they spring from " a desire for power that strips you of all power" and a desire for personal autonomy?
7. Do you think that Hornbacher's frank account of her afflictions and other, similarly honest accounts foster an understanding of eating disorders and prevent other girls and young women from following in her footsteps? Or do they provide eating-disordered people guidance in how to " do it better" ?
8. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, seven million girls and women in the United states have eating disorders. Why are anorexia and bulimia so overwhelmingly afflictions of young females? Why do so few young males fall victim to these disorders? Do boys and young men in our society suffer from different but corresponding disorders?
9. How well does Hornbacher combine her personal account with information from doctors, psychologists, and other authorities? Do the two sets of information consistently reinforce one another, or do they ever contradict one another?
10. How do anorexia and bulimia relate to the " cross-addictions" to sex, alcohol, and drugs? Does Hornbacher clarify the links among all these addictions?
11. Is Hornbacher justified in personalizing her disorder, as when she comments " You will never find a lover so careful, so attentive, so unconditionally present and concerned only with you" ? To what extent does she view her disorder as a distinct other person or as a second self of Marya Hornbacher?
12. What physical and emotional scars does Hornbacher carry by the end of her account? What do those scars indicate about the nature and severity of her ordeal? Whatdoes her attitude toward them indicate about her ability to vanquish her disorder? Do you think that she will succeed in overcoming her " fascination with death" ?
13. In what ways does Hornbacher present eating disorders as involving a conflict between " the female body" and " the female mind" ? What is the nature of that conflict, and how does it manifest itself in anorexia and/or bulimia?
14. " People who've Been to Hell and Back, " Hornbacher writes (p. 131), " develop a certain sort of self-righteousness." What sort of self-righteousness does she mean? How is it displayed by her former self? Does her book display any kind of self-righteousness?
15. Near the end of the book, Hornbacher writes, " I want to write a prescription for culture, . . . and I can't do that." (p. 283) To what extent, however, is her book a prescription for our present culture? What would be your " prescription for culture" ?
About the Author:
Marya Hornbacher works as a freelance editor and writer and maintains her day-to-day battle with her eating disorders. She is the winner of the White Award for Best Feature Story of 1993, for her Minneapolis Star Tribune article, " Wasted, " and has received the Women of Inspiration Award from the American Anorexia Bulimia Association. After a relapse in 1994, after completing "Wasted, she resumed her leap-of-faith battle. " It's exhausting, " as she writes in Wasted, " but it is a fight I believe in." She currently lives in California.
Why would a talented young girl go through the looking glass and step into a netherworld where up is down and food is greed, where death is honor and flesh is weak? Why enter into a love affair with hunger, drugs, sex, and death? Marya Hornbacher sustains both anorexia and bulimia through five lengthy hospitalizations, endless therapy, and the loss of family, friends, jobs, and ultimately, any sense of what it means to be "normal." By the time she is in college, Hornbacher is in the grip of a bout with anorexia so horrifying that it will forever put to rest the romance of wasting away. In this vivid, emotionally wrenching memoir, she re-created the experience and illuminated that tangle of personal, family, and cultural causes underlying eating disorders. Wasted is the story of one woman's travels to the darker side of reality, and her decision to find her way back--on her own terms.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 291-296).
About the Author
Marya Hornbacher is a journalist as well as a writer of fiction and memoir. Her first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, has become a classic. The Centerof Winter is her first novel. She lives in Minneapolis.