Go to Homepage   Lee Gutkind: Forever Fat (Essays by the Godfather)

 

Crescent Blues Book ViewsUniversity of Nebraska Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0803221940

Lee Gutkind, a prolific writer of immersion nonfiction (Many Sleepless Nights), editor of the Creative Nonfiction Journal, professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and the director of the Mid-Atlantic Creative-Nonfiction Writers' Conference at Goucher College, turns his talents to compiling a memoir from new and previously published essays.

Book: gutkind, forever fat

Named "the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction" thanks to a vitriolic article by James Wolcott several years ago in Vanity Fair, Gutkind dedicates this book to Wolcott (and others). He introduces this collection of personal essays with his previously published rebuttal to Wolcott's article.

Although old news, the Wolcott attack, Godfather moniker, and results of the notoriety shaped Gutkind's recent years. Before the name calling, he pulled himself out of a dysfunctional family, found his niche and led a successful, but somewhat low-profile life. Afterwards, he became the poster child and scapegoat for creative nonfiction.

In his title essay "Forever Fat" Gutkind depicts life as a sensitive, but fat, child growing up with an abusive father and passive, manipulative mother. A stint in the Coast Guard took off the pounds, freed him of the shackles of low self-esteem and gave him his life's mantra: "Never give up, never give in. Fall down nine times, get up ten."

In "Clarity," we learn that the constant repetition of his mantra may have cost him his marriage. You can tell your wife only so many times to "get up" until she tells hubby to get lost. But we also learn about being "our own worst enemies." That tidbit alone makes reading the essay worthwhile.

The image of his mother replays in various essays including "Teeth," which describes an encounter with a woman whose husband bartered to have her perfectly healthy teeth pulled, and "Clarity, an apologia of his relationships." He places "A History of My Father" back to back with "Mr. Meyers," drawing parallels between the man who wounded him physically and emotionally and the man who set him on the road to his life's work. Ironically, in "Desperately Seeking Irene," the author writes of an encounter with his mentor, Mr. Meyers, and a similar encounter with one of his own students where neither teacher remembers his student.

Recently I read an interview with memoirist, Haven Kimmel, where she admonishes would-be memoir writers to get rid of self-pity, agenda or malice before writing their personal stories. Gutkind's essay "WWMG" could benefit from such advice.

The author's lifetime of emotional pain makes this a melancholy read. Yet each essay, read and savored individually, offers insight into the human condition. Ultimately, Gutkind leaves readers with encouraging words following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack: "Like the city of New York, we must all learn to reach beyond the wounds in our heart to that place where the strength of our character is anchored…. These images, which once humiliated me, now sustain my resiliency."

Dawn Goldsmith

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