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In his beguiling and powerful new novel, the award-winning author of Dancing in the Lowcountry serves up a story of friendship, Southern food, dreams, and determination.
Loretta Crawford grew up in a family where lives are small and appetites are big, and where the cure for what ails you can usually be found in a plate of hot biscuits or a slice of rich pound cake. The results show all too clearly on her 5'4", 280-pound frame. Until one day, ...
In his beguiling and powerful new novel, the award-winning author of Dancing in the Lowcountry serves up a story of friendship, Southern food, dreams, and determination.
Loretta Crawford grew up in a family where lives are small and appetites are big, and where the cure for what ails you can usually be found in a plate of hot biscuits or a slice of rich pound cake. The results show all too clearly on her 5'4", 280-pound frame. Until one day, Loretta realizes she's had enough—enough of her mama's sugarcoated putdowns and of feeling unattractive, and enough of being called "Bubbles" when she blows her saxophone at Ziggy's club.
The final indignity comes when her loser husband, Lyman, leaves her for another woman. Down but determined, Loretta opts for weight loss surgery. As her size plummets, her horizons expand. Men look at her with desire instead of derision, and the catering business that was once a hobby begins to take off in earnest...
The fact is, no one in Houston can cook as well as Loretta, whether it's spicy shrimp Creole or delectable pecan wafers. Soon, the food that was her downfall promises to be her key to success. But the closer she gets to attaining the life she's always dreamed of—complete with a new love interest—the messier things become. Once, Loretta was sure that happiness, or something close to it, would be found in her first pair of skinny jeans. The reality isn't just complicated—it's surprising, heartbreaking, and ultimately liberating.
Moving, witty, and resolutely uplifting, here is a heroine as real as she is unforgettable, and a story that will resonate with every woman...fat, thin, and every size in between.
I reckon I do love my mama, but I gotta say sometimes she can be the most spiteful human being on earth when she pitches one of her hissies. You know, a real bitch. I mean, what I could use at this point in my life are just a few kind words of encouragement from my own mother, and what do I get but the same ridicule she's been dishing out ever since I decided to have the surgery-and before. I figure any other mother would be proud of a daughter who's determined to improve herself and overcome what I can only call a family curse. I also figure Mama's just envious of anyone who gets sick and tired of looking like a tub of lard and has the guts to finally do something about it.
Yeah, I used to be fat and make no bones about it. None of this wishy-washy crap about being full-figured and curvy and having a weight disorder. I'm talking about fat, disgusting fat-pure and simple. Like five foot four and 280 pounds. Hell, I was fat my whole goddamn life till I took the bull by the horns. I ate when I was happy. I ate when I was sad. I ate when I was disappointed or scared. If there was any reason to eat, I found it. And diets? You name it, I tried it. Weight Watchers. South Beach. Atkins. Nutrisystem. Tubular pasta. Even a stupid sugar-water diet I read about in Reader's Digest. Fat pills? Whatta joke! Also tried a MultiFlex for two months I ordered on the Internet, then weeks of purging, then some stupid support group, then heaven knows how much counseling and therapy. Nothing worked, and I hated myself, and all Mama could say was "Loretta, you're nuts," or "Sugar, why can't you just accept the way the Good Lord made you?" or "Loretta, nobody's ever gonna mistake you for a bathing beauty"-awful things like that.
Fat. As I say, it's always been like a plague on my whole family. Maybe it's partly genetic, but the truth is, we all love food more than life itself, and, myself, I love to cook and fool around with food and watch the Food Network almost as much as I love eating and blowing the sax and finding good homes for our animals. Guess I learned to cook mostly from Mama, but show me something like Helen Corbett's Cookbook and I can spend days just reading it, and gettin' ideas, and fixin' dozens of great dishes. Of course I'm best at Southern and Tex-Mex, but when I wanna do real fancy foreign things like beef burgundy and chicken cacciatore, I couldn't do without my messed-up copy of Joy of Cooking that Mama once gave me for my birthday. And I wonder why I could never lose weight.
Anyway, my sweet daddy died of a heart attack when he was only forty-eight. Mama's up there at about 250 and has diabetes and hypoglycemia and obstructive sleep apnea. And my older sister Gladys, who's a year older than me and married with a fat husband and four chubby children ... well, Gladys is only thirty-seven and has already had one knee replaced, and she's still about Mama's size. I've begged and begged Mama and Gladys both to bite the bullet the way I finally did, but they're both scared as chickens. Just terrified of the idea of having their stomachs banded-banded gastroplasty they call it. I told Mama she wouldn't be around many more years to bake biscuits and put up preserves if she didn't get over to the bariatric clinic, but then she gets on her high horse again and says things like, "It's not natural fooling around with your body like that, young lady, and you could end up paying a price worse than death." I do something like pat my tummy and hips and say, "But, Mama, look at me now. Just look at me and see how much healthier and happier I am." And she just makes that mean face the way she does when she disapproves of something and says, "Loretta, child, I liked you a lot better when you had more flesh and sometimes wonder who you really think you are."
Well, goddammit, if Mama and Gladys want to eat themselves into an early grave and spend the rest of their lives waddling around Houston like stuffed ducks, I'm out the door and can't keep worrying about them. Not after all the crap I've been through this past year and a half. Down from 280 to 162 and still have a good 30 pounds to go. It's been hell, though, I can tell you. Five-hour operation, gallbladder removed, a silicone ring cinched around my stomach so I have only a small pouch, hair falling out the first couple of months, thyroid problems, and now I'd probably upchuck if I ate more than an ounce or so of chicken Parmesan or fries or salami wrap or trail mix or lots of other things I've always loved. And this don't even count all the body contouring, and the expense, and the frustration of being around my wonderful cheese biscuits and chocolate-pecan balls and jelly treats the bank sometimes pays me good money to make for one of their fancy shindigs. What I do now is keep these little chocolaty candies called Nips with me at all times and suck on one if I have hunger pangs.
It's been no fun and takes lots of mental adjustment, that's for sure, but it does me good to remember what it was like before. Size 30 and Lane Bryant and Avenue. Gasping for breath when I picked up even a beagle at the shelter. Couldn't cross my legs to tie my shoes. Heart palpitations and sky-high cholesterol. Festered open sores inside my thighs. Saxophone balanced way up on my boobs when I played a gig at Ziggy's, and audiences calling me Bubbles. Even climbing the stairs at home on my hands and knees. And if I fell down, whoooa ...! One time, the small metal step stool in the kitchen just collapsed when I was fixin' to make some divinity fudge and reached up in the cabinet for some brown sugar. Had to lay there in the middle of the friggin' floor till Lyman got home and called the neighbors to help me up. Nobody can imagine the humiliation.
Worst, I guess, was the binge eating. Let me at a Dunkin' Donuts, say, and it was nothing for me to knock off maybe four or five with a couple of French vanilla coffees without blinking an eye. I was always crazy about any Chinese takeout since everything on those long menus is so tempting, but when the craving really hit, the folks at Panda Delight over on Richmond almost knew without asking to pack me up an order of wings, a couple of egg rolls, shrimp dumplings, pork fried rice, and the best General Tso's chicken this side of Hong Kong. When my friend at the shelter, Eileen Silvers, got married at Temple Beth Yeshurum, I had a field day over the roast turkey and lamb and rice and baked salmon and jelly cakes on the reception buffet, and when me and Lyman would go out to Pancho's Cantina for Mexican, nothing would do but to follow up margaritas and a bowl of chunky guacamole and a platter of beef fajitas with a full order of pork carnitas and a few green chile sausages. And don't even ask about the barbecue and links and jalapeño cheese bread and pecan pie at Tinhorn BBQ. Just the thought still makes me drool.
And sex? Oh, before I hit about 230 I could still go on top of Lyman pretty easy, but when I reached my peak ... well, I don't mind saying that when I reached my peak my thighs were so goddamn big I couldn't even get a grip on the bed. Guess I really couldn't blame the man for finally wanting to take a long walk.
Not that Lyman was ever any special catch, believe you me. Lyman's what you call an insecure girl's guy, not a wild woman's guy. Already balding with thin, frizzled hair, a stupid lizard tattooed up his left arm, geeky long boxers and shiny fake leather boots, and kinda bony and underdeveloped in the wrong places-if you know what I mean. Loves to play Grand Theft Auto and poker on his computer when he's not working at the muffler shop or riding his Hog. Dumb things like that. And the goat roper's so awkward on his feet he couldn't do-si-do around a chili pot without falling in.
But what in heaven's name was I supposed to do when Mama and Gladys kept saying that men weren't gonna be beating the bushes to my door, and that if I didn't grab Lyman and marry him while I had the chance the way she did Daddy and Gladys did Rufus, I'd just end up lonely and miserable the rest of my life. Of course, Lyman didn't fool me a minute, not one minute when he'd say, "Oh, Let, I like plenty of butter in my vinegar pie and lots of meat on my ribs, and, besides, it's what's inside that counts most." Yeah, sure. I mean, who doesn't know some guys hit on fat chicks because they're easy and available? And, boy, was I ever available.
So, yeah, I went ahead and married the jerk when he told me I had a great personality and was fun and all that malarkey. Wanna know Lyman's idea of fun? Dragging me and Mary Jane and Sam to Long John's Chili Parlor way out on Liberty for a bowl o' red and to listen to some crappy banjo quartet for hours on end. Or shootin' birds up at Sheldon Reservoir, which made me sick at my stomach. Or me riding behind him on his Hog along Buffalo Bayou while he and some of his trash friends with their gals tried to outscratch one another in the sand pits. Well, he changed his tune big-time when I got to be more than he could handle, and that brainless powder puff who worked down at Champagne Video sank her claws in him. Good riddance, I said at the time, and I remember also thanking my heavenly stars we'd decided to put off having any kids till we could afford something besides a mobile. Now, if I didn't have more manners ... now, I'd love nothing more than to drive over to Sutt's Mufflers in my Ford Focus and just stand there in front of Lyman in my size 14 white ducks with my goddamn hands on my hips and say, "Wanna make some bigtime, Bozo?"
I'd be lying through my teeth if I didn't admit that Lyman leaving me for that white trash Tiffany had something to do with my decision to have the gastric banding. But I'd also be lying if I said my one and only reason was to look pretty and sexy-especially after what I was always led to believe about myself in the past. I mean, Mama made it perfectly clear when I was a child that I was just fat and plain, and even after I started middle school and was making all As and Bs, she was still telling me I'd only make a fool of myself if I tried to be like everybody else and gussied up like other girls to attract the boys. "Sweetheart, you're happiest right here frying chicken and making gumbo with me, and I only want to keep you from being hurt," she'd say in that sugary tone she can have when she wants me to agree with her. Yeah, sure. No wonder the other kids made fun of my oversized tanks and half sizes from Sears and Walmart, and snickered behind my back, and I never had many dates.
Actually, when I think about it now, I realize I probably wouldn't have gotten through those times if it hadn't been for Daddy. I really loved my daddy, and I don't care what Mama said sometimes, he was a good man who called me Princess and always made me feel special. Like when he'd take me out to the rides at Texas Jubilee-just him and me-and hold me tight on the Tilt-a-Wheel so I wouldn't be scared to death and scream my lungs out. Or when he got me my first dog-Cindy-to play with since I didn't have that many friends. And later on when the music teacher said I had natural talent, and he bought me my first sax to play in the school band. Not that my main reasons for having the surgery included looking like the princess Daddy always thought I was.
My main reasons were so I wouldn't die young, and so kids at the strip mall and outside the movie theater would stop mumbling "oink, oink," and I could shop somewhere besides Big Country, and I wouldn't have to two-step with other girls at Dixie Stampede, and I could maybe even ride the bull at Ziggy's.
"Loretta," my good friend Sally at the shelter said when I told her I'd made up my mind, "why put yourself through all that hell? You know we all love you just the way you are, honey, and the animals don't know any difference," and la-di-da-di-da. Shit, Sally's up there herself way over 200 and doesn't exactly have anybody banging her but that no-good Zach who she sees maybe once every other week or so when he needs somebody to light his firecracker. She stays on one diet after another, and I can tell you she'd probably end up going for the procedure in a split second if she qualified. One hundred pounds or more overweight: that's the rule at the clinic-no exceptions, no excuses. What Sally wouldn't go for are all the vitamins and mineral supplements you have to take afterwards. Or sticking to a tough exercise routine. Or having the painful reconstruction to tighten up all the loose skin. It took guts and all the money I could make working two jobs just to pay the first MasterCard charges. And avoiding lots of Classic Coke and suds and liquid foods like milk shakes and ice cream that go down so much easier than solids-that's what takes real willpower and determination.
And much as I love Sally and consider her my best friend, I gotta say that willpower and determination are two things she don't have. Like the time she and Zach went with me and Lyman to Lucky Strike lanes to bowl and she's trying to stop smoking. Right off the bat Zach scores something like a strike on the first frame, then a turkey, then a couple of doubles and another strike. Lyman racks up a few strikes himself, and I do okay with a strike and some spares, but poor Sally's having a bad night and all she can score is one split after the next. Well, by about the fifth frame, I can see she's gettin' real frustrated and nervous as she readjusts the mitt on her hand, and the next thing I hear is "Zach, honey, gimme one of ya weeds."
"No, Sal!" I scream. "Please don't! That's not gonna help."
"Oh, one's not gonna hurt me," she says. "I'm really pissed off and gotta relax more."
So Zach lights a cigarette for her and she takes a few puffs, and, wouldn't you know it, on the next frame, with that damn butt between her teeth, she delivers one hell of a spin and slams a strike.
"Now you're bustin', gal," Lyman has to egg her on, and by the time we've bowled a few more frames, Sally's almost chain-smoking and racking up more spares than any of us.
What Sally does have that I don't have is lots of patience with people, which I guess comes from working checkout part-time at Country Foodarama the way she does and puttin' up with those crazies at the Assembly of God where she goes every single Sunday morning without fail. First, I never put up with much shit from Lyman, but Sally will let Zach string her out till kingdom come when it comes to catching a flick, or fixin' her Cavalier, or getting tickets for a Rockets game. This nice-looking couple from out in the Heights comes to the SPCA not long ago looking for a small dog for their five-year-old, and when Sally shows them this frisky Jack Russell mix we'd been trying to place for months, the father and kid go crazy about the mutt but the wife keeps asking if he yaps that much all the time. On and on she whines about not wanting a yelping dog, and worries how barking might bother the neighbors, and wonders if the dog will ever calm down, and what have you. Hell, I would have just told the dame straight out that all Jack Russells are pretty noisy by nature when excited and maybe something like a poodle or cocker mix might be a better choice. But Sally sees a chance for a good home with a reliable family, and explains patiently the various ways any dog can be trained to behave, and oohs and aahs over the way the child and dog are so compatible, and before you know it, the mother seems to have forgotten all about barking and is cuddling the dog like a baby, and telling her husband to write out a donation. Lord, what I'd give to have Sally's patience. I remember when I was as fat as Sally and trying to lose all that weight, I was so anxious I couldn't get to the scales fast enough every morning. If that had been Sally, she would've probably been real calm about it all, but not me. When I got my mind set on most things, if it happens tomorrow, that's too late.
Crazy as it sounds, what's gotten me through my weight ordeal more than anything else is cooking-for myself, for friends, and church events, and SPCA fund-raising picnics, and birthdays, and Lord knows what else. Okay, so I can't actually eat like I did before the surgery without upchucking, and sometime my willpower's really put to the test. But believe you me, nothing can keep me out of the kitchen, and now I can be pretty satisfied with just the thrill of tasting all the dishes. I guess you could call cooking a passion with me, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it's also some kind of therapy. Always has been, I'd say.
Excerpted from HUNGRY for HAPPINESS by JAMES VILLAS Copyright © 2010 by James Villas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 17, 2010
The synopsis leads one to hope for redemption and insight for the main characacter, Loretta. However, chapters are merely a series of sad events, some meant to be humorous, that only serve as examples of Loretta's low self-esteem. I was very happy to finish the book and move on. The best part is the author's inclusion of recipes at the end of the book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 8, 2010
Hungry For Happiness is a great book about a woman who finally takes charge of her life- Loretta once was a 280 pound woman, and decided to make the changes to become thinner. She had a surgery done, and is now skinnier. She learns how to deal with the new challenges she faces in her life, her family's lack of doing anything about their own weight, and dealing with an ex husband who had left her, and fining new love. James Villas creates a heartwarming story, with characters that are well created and bring life to the pages. Hungry For Happiness will appeal to readers of all types, for so many can relate in different ways.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.