Sunday, September 16, 2007

Alternate Beauty by Andrea Rains Waggener

This blog has not delved much into my personal life, and I really prefer it that way, as I wanted to focus on books, authors and my passion for reading.
But this book, Alternate Beauty, attracted my attention because it deals with something that has been a part of my life since I started taking cortisone at age 5 for asthma and allergies--being a larger person. I dislike the terms 'fat' and 'obese' because they are used as epithets by ignorant and cruel people who don't know what its like to have no control over your body size.
Having been a larger person (I once weighed 300 pounds) who lost 100 pounds when I was in my 20s and became "normal" sized, I can honestly say that there is a great deal of truth to the idea that how you feel about yourself on the inside, your mindset and your heart, has a great deal to do with how the world percieves you and how attractive you are to the opposite sex. I was expecting to be propositioned constantly once I was in shape and svelte, but that didn't really happen. I did have more men notice me, and yes, I dated more, but a majority of the guys I dated turned out to be jerks and freaks, certainly not the kind of man I was looking to create a long term relationship with. Most of them were terrible lovers as well, interested only in what I could do for them sexually, and not at all interested in making me feel good or satisfied. The only man who ever bothered to ask me what I want and how I feel is now my husband.
So I could identify with the protagonist of Alternate Beauty, Veronica "Ronnie" Tremayne. (I could even identify, to some extent, with her having a mother who was thin and vain, as my mother never had a weight problem until she turned 65, and even then it was only an extra 20 pounds. My mother isn't cruel and nasty like Ronnie's however.) Ronnie works in a Queen Size Boutique in downtown Seattle (I also worked in a Queen size clothing boutique in downtown Seattle about 11 years ago, briefly) and is told that she's going to lose her job because her 300 pound size is making her customers "uncomfortable." She binge eats to fill the empty hole in her soul, and also as a means of revenge and control. She has a boyfriend who loves her as she is, but he looks like a chipmunk and she is dissatisfied with their sexual relationship, mainly due to her own loathing of her body. Ronnie ends up in a parallel universe by accident, and this universe is one in which fat is revered and desired, while the thin are discriminated against as the overweight are in our world. Ronnie revels, at first, in all the attention and adoration she recieves for being big and beautiful, and she moves in with a photographer who worships her avoirdupois. She soon discovers, though, that she doesn't feel the need to binge eat when she has the approval of her mother and her peers. Once Ronnie starts to lose weight, she experiences the same kind of discrimination that she felt in the 'real' world, being shunned by lovers and friends alike. Her old lover, however, still finds her attractive, no matter how saggy her skin becomes, and she renews her relationship with him. While all this is happening, Ronnie comes to realize that what she needs to do is to learn to love herself as she is, fat or thin, and esteem herself, realize her worth and move forward with her life, with or without her mothers approval. Once she's had that revelation, she ends up back in her own world, where she takes charge of her life and career once again in a classic Happily Ever After ending.
The prose in this novel seems a bit rough in spots, but the heart is there, and Waggener mentions in her bio that she's been there, done that with the whole weight issue, so I could forgive her a few rough spots because the message of the novel came through loud and clear. A vast majority of the prose is just fine, and her plot certainly moves along at a spritely pace. I was rather surprised that this novel was considered general fiction by the publisher when its clearly science fiction/romance, or fantasy/romance, complete with an explanation of different realities existing next to one another. I can only assume that Ms Waggener didn't want to be considered a genre fiction writer, because a number of people somehow assume that genre fiction isn't as good as regular fiction. Snobbish and silly as it is, there are writers who'd rather die than write genre novels, especially science fiction or romance. That attitude is ridiculous and I sincerely hope that Ms Waggener's publisher made the decision to house this fine novel in general fiction, where it got a chick lit cover and hopefully, some good marketing by Bantam. The honesty and emotion of the characters and the empathy I felt for Ronnie made me read through Alernate Beauty in two days. I plan on recommending it to my fellow SF/Romance bibliophiles.
I'd also recommend this book to any woman who has ever struggled with her weight and self image. I'd bet that qualifies most women to read Alternate Beauty, which is well worth the time. Its uplifting message of learning to love yourself as you are is not to be missed.

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