Hunger Point by Jillian Medoff
“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, and her grandfather wants to plan her wedding (even though she has no fiancé, let alone a steady boyfriend).
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,” whom critics have called “the most fully realized character to come along in years,” (Paper) nor will you forget Hunger Point, an utterly original novel that stuns with its amazing insights and dazzles with its fresh, distinctive voice.
Overall 2/5 stars. DNF. I tried really hard to finish this book. Unlike many, I had to force myself to keep reading, but ultimately decided not to finish it. According to other reviews, this was a good decision– apparently there is some redemption at the end, but not enough to make it worth it.
Overall, the characters had little to recommend them. Frannie is self-centered and self-pitying. Her lack of drive and follow-through, which later we can attest to depression, coupled with no redeeming qualities, makes it impossible to root for her. The mother is arguably more self-centered. As a mother she is absent at best and borderline emotionally abusive at worst. She is having an affair, both with another man and her unending supply of painkillers. The father is passive and unhelpful. The sister, Shelly, who suffers from anorexia, is the most likable character, but since the book is through Frannie’s point of view, we don’t get to understand or appreciate her as much as I would have liked. While a dysfunctional family is unfortunately common in mental health issues, having no positive qualities in these characters worsens the stigma and is an ultimately unfair depiction of some of these issues.
On the other hand, there is a lot Medoff does well in educating about mental illness. The therapist was realistic in her comments and suggestions. Likewise the descriptions of Shelly in the hospitak felt authentic, making it clear that Medoff had done her due diligence in research. I appreciated the attempt at an eating disorder book from the family member’s point of view, especially exploring other member’s issues, but I wish the execution lived up to the promise. The crossover from dieting culture growing up to the eating disorder as an adult in Shelly, but not Frannie, was a good representation of risk and protective factors (ie not every family member will have it). Similarly, the family’s inability to grasp the severity, and essence, of Shelly’s disorder is unfortunately realistic.
Plot was another area that held promise but made it harder to stay engaged. Some of the initial conflicts– Frannie’s search for a job and love, and Shelly’s battle with an eating disorder– lost steam as the book progressed. Part of this was not liking the characters. Another part was Frannie’s own apathy towards her goals and her lack of influence over Shelly’s progress.
One saving grace of this book is that the writing is relatively well done. Medoff is clearly talented and managed to keep me reading longer than others might have, thanks to her great prose.
All in all, the premise held a lot of promise, but the book falls flat in multiple areas, especially likable characters and an engaging plot.