Hunger Point

Hunger Point

4.1 21
by Jillian Medoff

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"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

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"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, her grandfather wants to plan her wedding (even though she has no fiancé, let alone a steady boyfriend), and, to top it off, Frannie is a waitress who wears a dirty duck apron and serves plates of fried cheese to her ex-boyfriend's parents.

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," who critics have called "the most fully realized character to come along in years," (Paper) and you'll never forget Hunger Point, an utterly original novel that stuns with its amazing insights and dazzles with its fresh, distinctive voice.

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Editorial Reviews

“[Hunger Point] confronts the terrors of anorexia and other modern ills with empathy and understanding.”
Vanity Fair
“Wonderfully obsessive...bitterly funny.”
“This fine first novel is so winning and funny, you’ll laugh instead of cry.”
New York Times
“Recklessly candid.”
People Magazine
"[Hunger Point] confronts the terrors of anorexia and other modern ills with empathy and understanding."
Kirkus Reviews
At once heartbreaking and funny, a debut novel on death and renewal that is strong and honest.

Frannie, at 26, has a college degree, a waitressing job, and her childhood room back at her parents' house. She tells in earthy, sharp-tongued prose the story of her Long Island family, a nice middle-class clan of ordinary neurotics: Dad obsesses over the preparation of gourmet meals and keeps his mouth shut; Mom Marsha pops Valium and compulsively diets while conducting an illicit affair; and little sister Shelly, seemingly serene and perfect, gets thinner and thinner as the days go by. Not offering some melodramatic, superficial textbook-like tale on the ravages of anorexia, Medoff (who herself had a long-term eating disorder) creates instead a startling story exploring the symptoms of the disease and the crushing effects it has on a family, offering as well a powerful examination of the politics of food, women, and self-image in American culture. When Shelly checks herself into a hospital, Frannie realizes that her own behavior, self-destructive through alternative means (sleeping with a series of "Rat Boys," for instance), is not so different from her sister's desire to erase herself. Life utterly stops, though, when Shelly commits suicide. Things break apart: Frannie's parents split, her best friend Abby drops her, and Frannie herself sinks into a dangerous, masochistic depression. Medoff displays an unwavering honesty in capturing the silent fears, thoughts, and secret confidences of women, and a real talent for making those truths not morosely tragic but simply human and funny. Frannie slowly climbs out of her depression to find a job, a boyfriend, and a little self-esteem, but more importantly comes to terms with her sister's death and the permanent void it creates.

Despite the subject matter, an exuberant meditation on life, family, and the hard-won satisfactions of personal change.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.86(d)

Read an Excerpt


Look at these breasts! They're huge!" I grew up jealous of my mother's love affair with food. Other families gathered around the dinner table to discuss report cards and whose turn it was to walk the dog. When I was a kid, the meal itself took center stage, and food was treated like a favored child.

"Can you believe how big they are? They're absolutely to die for!"

The meal continued with my mother's running commentary on every aspect of those breasts: how my father should have marinated them in barbecue sauce, not soy, because they taste too salty, no? and Frannie! Don't eat the skin. You won't lose weight if you eat the skin.

"We're eating, Mom," she'd say to my grandmother, who had the uncanny ability to call just as we sat down. "Chicken. Absolutely delicious. Marinated in some soy thing. Yes, the girls are here, but some of us are on diets"—she glanced at me, a narrow eyebrow raised—"so no skin." She nestled the phone in her neck to tell us that Grandma didn't want us to worry about our weight, we're skinny enough as it is.

She got up, waving her fork in the air like a baton. "No, I am listening. I heard every word." She lifted the breast from her plate and walked through the kitchen. Wrapped in the phone cord, she picked off the meat with her long red nails. She gnawed on the bone, sucking off what she could, then threw it out and hung up, the receiver streaked with a faint oval of grease.

"Grandma says hi. God, this chicken is so good, it's like a sickness with me." She canvassed the table as we ate. "Frannie!" she yelped. "What are you doing?!" I froze in my seat. And slowly, so slowly, I loosened my grip onthe forbidden skin and slid it palm-down onto my sister Shelly's plate. "Dear," she said with annoyance. "I love the skin more than you, but do you see me eating it? It's fattening."

When we were very young the amount of food we could consume was an endless source of amusement. "A whole half a steak!" my grandmother exclaimed as Shelly fisted a piece of sirloin. "A whole half a steak! Where does she put it?" She shook her head in fascination and delight. "Shelly's got your appetite, Marsha!" she said proudly. "Now stand back, let the child eat."

By elementary school, my ability to consume seven Twinkies in one sitting was no longer cute. "Frannie, you're getting fat," my mom said solemnly. "You're too pretty to be heavy. You want boys to like you, don't you?" The word fat assumed a meaning as deadly as cancer. Getting fat was worse than losing your job, worse than being jilted at the altar, worse than living in a trailer park and growing up without shoes. "You need to start watching yourself," my mother instructed, "before it's too late."

I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was ten. Shelly, who was eight with soft creamy skin, blond angel hair, blue eyes the color of a cloudless sky, and "legs like a gazelle," stayed home. "We're a team, Frannie," my mother said, lining up in front of the scale. "The first one to lose ten pounds gets a new bathing suit."

I wasn't an ugly kid, nor, looking back, was I particularly fat. I have long, curly brown hair that kinks like moss when it rains, green eyes, and a lot of "those could become melanoma" freckles across my nose and chest. Not your All-American beauty, but certainly not Medusa. Rather than bicker with my mother, I carried the Weight Watchers passbook where they recorded my weight, I listened attentively to the lecture, I even raised my hand once to ask where all the fat went when you lost it. All the chubby women hunched in their folding chairs laughed at my precociousness, but I was genuinely curious. I wanted to know if there was a redistribution between the skinny and the fat; if I had a chance to look like the ladies behind the Clinique counter whose advice my mother sought, or if fat was predetermined like blue eyes and strong bones, and would eventually find its way back.

My father was on the road a lot selling women's sportswear, so my mother served us TV dinners. "Don't eat the potatoes, Frannie. Potatoes are starch. Starch makes you fat." Shelly rarely spoke during meals. She fixated on her aluminum tray as if afraid someone would snatch it away. "Why can't I be on a diet?" she asked. "I need to be on a diet, too." Defiantly, she laid down her fork. My mother reached over. "You don't need anything of the sort. Here"—she scraped the gravy off Shelly's Salisbury steak—"you're dieting. Now eat."

At eleven, I was more interested in calories than in going to the Girl Scout Jamboree and sleeping in a tent. I cut out pictures from Seventeen of girls with perfect thighs, I counted bread servings, I made frothy shakes from powdered skim milk, water, and fifteen cubes of ice. I did leg lifts and donkey kicks on my bedroom floor. In the cafeteria at school, I sat with a turkey sandwich while everyone else ate fish sticks and macaroni and cheese, golden, gloopy, mouth-watering macaroni browned on top with crushed bread crumbs. I was good, so good, I was invincible until Friday nights when I would reward my week with rocky road ice milk, the whole carton, in front of the TV.

When Shelly entered junior high, she was put in a special program for gifted children. She kept to herself, wrote impressive book reports, and started doing weird things with food. She wasn't "shoveling it in," but she did eat large quantities of only one thing. At first, it was turkey or chef salads or giant bowls of Rice-a-Roni. But then it progressed to spaghetti with margarine and hot honey sandwiches. My mother got worried, especially when my sister fell in love with peanut butter milk shakes and, despite her magic legs, put on weight. I was still gaining and losing the same ten pounds, so my mother took control and helped us plan our meals. The three of us sat at the kitchen table; my mom used a calculator to tally our calories, and as she dictated, I wrote down our breakfast, lunch, and dinners neatly on a yellow legal pad:


1/2 cup raisin bran, 1 piece of dry whole wheat toast, 1/2 cup skim milk, 1/2 banana


2 pieces of toast, 4 ounces of water-based tuna, 1 large lettuce leaf, tomato and cucumber slices, 8 carrot sticks, 1 tbsp. vinegar, 1 apple


1/2 dry baked potato, 4 ounces of chicken breast (no skin), string beans without butter, small salad with oil and vinegar, 1 chocolate Alba shake

With boy-girl parties and Seven Minutes in Heaven to deal with, I tried hard to stay on my diet. But sometimes I didn't and always vowed in my diary to get back on track.

November 11—BAD day. Debi Parker got her period in gym. You could see the blood right through her gym suit.


1 piece of toast—no butter, 5 handfuls of dry cereal, 21 M&M's


Skipped lunch (ate all those M&M's)


3 chicken breasts with no skin; 3 pieces of sourdough bread; 12 string beans; lettuce, carrots, and celery with mustard; 1 chocolate Alba shake; 3 bites of pound cake and 3 spoons of ice cream; 12 diet candies; 2 bologna sandwiches with ketchup (eaten in bed)

Dear Frannie, You are a FAT pig. You are TOO FAT. Tomorrow you CAN'T eat ANYTHING. I hate you, you PIG. Signed, Frannie.

My mother was so proud when I lost weight, she called my father in Des Moines, in Scranton, or in Newark while I stood on the scale. "Two pounds this week," she sang into the phone, giddy with success. Shelly cheated all the time and never lost weight. "I thought you wanted to diet, Shelly," my mother moaned. "I'm trying to help you. I have the same problem," she added. "It's genetic."

The best times I had as a kid were during the holidays. My mother got caught up in the spirit of the season and allowed Shelly and me to eat whatever we wanted from Turkey Day all the way to New Year's Eve. My mother is Jewish and my father is Protestant, so we didn't celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah like most people. We didn't go to church, decorate trees, light candles, or spin dreidels. Our family celebrated by eating. We had honey-baked ham, eggnog, and reindeer cookies coated with green and red sprinkles, as well as latkes, matzo ball soup, roasted chicken with crispy, greasy, unbelievably delicious skin. We thanked God for my mother's indulgence and ended the bacchanalia with ceremonial food hangovers and New Year's dieting resolutions. Having no religion never bothered me because I, unlike most children, was exposed to so many culinary possibilities. Even now when people ask about my religion, I just say that in my family we worship the man who invented SnackWell's.

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Meet the Author

Jillian Medoff is the author of the richly praised Hunger Point. A former fellow at the MacDowell Colony, the Blue Mountain Center, and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, she lives in Brooklyn where she is hard at work on a new novel.

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