Thursday, July 2, 2020

"Thin Girls"

Diana Clarke is a writer and teacher from New Zealand. She received her MFA in fiction from Purdue University and is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Utah.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Thin Girls, and reported the following:
Oh, yikes. Page 69 of Thin Girls just so happens to be a scene in which, in flashback, the book’s protagonist, Rose, is school age and sitting at the popular table for the first time, learning to give a blow job to a banana. This page was not intentionally numbered as 69, I don’t think, but what a happy coincidence. At this point in the novel, Rose is in an anorexia recovery facility, but she spends a lot of her time in the past, remembering, reminiscing, and, in some ways, researching her descent into starvation. Her therapist has asked her to diarise her past in an attempt to uncover triggers and even a root to her illness, and while the flashbacks are not explicitly diary entries, they grow from the request that Rose attempt to confront her past.

This flashback is surprisingly telling of one of the book’s larger themes – the idea of fitting in. Rose is ever concerned with being accepted and belonging. She wants to be wanted and she wants to be loved, a yearning maybe instilled in her by the ways in which her twin sister, Lily, has always been the “better” twin, favoured by their parents, teachers, and classmates. Rose doesn’t seem to fit into the world, and perhaps this is part of the reason she begins to diet. Smaller things fit in more places and smaller women fit the idealised feminine image. Women are told to be thin, and the image of femininity we are told to conform to is lean and shaped like an hourglass, and, although very few women fit this stencil naturally, we find ways to make ourselves fit the proper shape, to fit in with other women and with the dominant, problematic, image of beauty.

The page also deals with sexuality and coming of age, two concepts Thin Girls explores throughout its pages. Rose desperately wants to be normal. She dreams of being the heteronormative, idealised woman, and she tries to be. Sitting at the cafeteria table, she takes the banana into her mouth, and she doesn’t stop even when it wounds her.

Something that surprised me upon turning to this page was the (now very obvious) parallel between this flashback scene and the novel’s first scene, in which Rose is at the facility in a program called Intellectual Eating. The program aims to have patients develop relationships with their food without having to actually consume anything. In the book’s first scene, the thin girls are sitting around a table, pre-eating, that is, they are holding imaginary sandwiches and pretending to take bites, chew, swallow. I can’t believe I never noticed how closely the flashback scene, with the huddle of schoolgirls performing faux-fellatio on bananas mimics the pre-eating scene. People are always telling me things about this book that weren’t at all intentional. It’s one of my favourite parts of publishing so far.
Visit Diana Clarke's website.

My Book, The Movie: Thin Girls.

Q&A with Diana Clarke.

--Marshal Zeringue