Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed
Available: Paperback, used hardcover, Kindle edition.
I haven’t gone back to them lately, but I remember how breathtaking and gruesome I found the stories of Kit Reed as collected by Connie Willis in Weird Women, Wild Women when I first discovered them. Reed’s stories push the edge of our existing world just a step beyond into a reality that is both plausible and unreal. In general, her stories have a feminist slant, and focus on taking issues and situations that primarily affect women and taking them to the next level. Even for her, though, this novel is message-heavy.
Thinner Than Thou is a novel that expresses in detail the consequences of taking “beauty culture” to extremes on a systemic level. It’s told from multiple points of view, but is centered on teenage anorexic Annie Abercrombie, whose parents sign her over to an organization called the Dedicated Sisters, which treats extreme cases of people with eating disorders. Annie’s siblings, Betz and Davey, angry at their parents, run off to search for their sister without a clue as to where she might be. Annie’s mother, who regrets signing her daughter away, is being pressured into getting plastic surgery in order to look younger, resists it and takes off to find all three of her missing children. A connected storyline involves the wealthy, overweight Jerry Devlin, who has signed up for a weight-loss “boot camp” run by the “Reverend Earl”. Devlin has a strong personality and his insider’s view helps shape the story as Annie’s family searches for her, unable to find her from the outside. Betz and Davey’s storyline, as well as their mother’s, is pretty random, as they wander from place to place seeking out the facilty in which Annie is being held. Eventually they run into each other, manage to discover where Annie is and rescue her, and lead a resistance movement to the headquarters in hopes of publicly overthrowing the Reverend Earl on television.
As grotesque as this future is, the stereotypes are taken to such extremes that character development suffers. The plot is unsatisfying because of the randomness of events and the convenient way everything falls into place at the end. While individual characters are interesting, especially those who change (like Devlin and Annie’s mother) and Reed does an excellent job of creating a disturbing near-future that can be easily pictured in the mind’s eye, I think that she is a much better writer in the short story format, and that this novel would have been more successful as a group of linked short stories. Thinner Than Thou isn’t the most satisfying book I’ve read recently, but it is still well worth reading, and provides a great deal of food for thought. Recommended.
Contains: Torture, sexual situations.