Keelan Cavanaugh is fat. That’s why the government put him in prison.
They placed him in a Calorie Reduction Centre (CRC), where trained staff work to help him and many others slim down. Well, that was the intention, anyway. The powers that be had decided chubby citizens must either go there or lose their health care coverage.
When he meets Jacinda Williams, an activist lawyer researching this new system, Keelan is more determined than ever to slim down. But Keelan discovers losing weight is more difficult than it seems, especially when he also has to fight against a ridiculous bureaucracy and policy wonks with hidden agendas. Can he succeed, and will the CRC-crossed lovers ever sit at love’s banquet together?
From award-winning author Mark A. Rayner, The Fatness is a contemporary satire of socialism, capitalism, and the so-called “obesity epidemic”. This is Catch-22 for a new generation, with a distinctly tender undertone, even as it mercilessly spoofs the establishment.
Praise for Mark A. Rayner
“Mark A. Rayner—an all-Canadian synthesis of Douglas Adams and Ben Elton—understands that the best satire is only five degrees to the left of reality. The Fatness may not be reality (yet), but it’s too close for comfort. Luckily, it’s also funny as heck.” ~Corey Redekop, author of Shelf Monkey and Husk
“I’ve only come across a few writers who are truly funny, and Mark A. Rayner is one of them.” ~Terry Fallis, author of Best Laid Plans
“Mark A. Rayner’s characters possess substance enough, and exist in a world sufficiently vivid, to be able to revolt and liberate themselves in an exhilarating counterrevolutionary struggle.” ~Tom Bradley, author of Useful Despair as Taught to the Hemorrhaging Slave of an Obese Eunuch
“Mark A. Rayner is just a terrific storyteller and one of the most imaginative and original writers you will ever have the pleasure of reading.” ~Ian Ferguson, Author of Village of the Small Houses
“Mark A. Rayner is an author with a fantastical sense of humor and a dangerous imagination.” ~The Next Best Book Club
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Eat Your Cake and Have It, Too
The weigh-in was a disaster.
Keelan Cavanaugh stood at the mirror in his tiny room, a wad of belly fat bunched up in his meaty hands. He cursed the roll breathlessly. The skin bulged and turned red as his hands gripped tighter, as if he could – through force of will and enough manual pressure – make the band of fat tissue magically disappear.
But it just hurt.
And for some reason it also made him hungry.
Intellectually, Keelan understood that it was more than the obvious roll of pudge around his middle that was the cause of his continued stay in the Uxford County Calorie Reduction Centre (CRC-17). In his mind's eye, he could imagine the fifty-one bricks of malleable, white, soft butter-like substance that were hidden inside his body somewhere – a pound tucked underneath his liver like cocaine stuffed into a smuggler's arse; some nestled around the heart and lungs, slowly choking him to death; and the obvious subcutaneous blubber that made corduroy pants a fire hazard ... Fifty-one pounds of pure fat that took him from a perfect, Adonis-like body weight, to his current state of crapulence, at 230 pounds.
It was his two-year anniversary in CRC-17. He'd spent that time trying to lose enough weight so that his body mass index – his BMI, which was a measure of his body fat, determined by his height and weight – would drop below the magic number. Thirty and over, and you were obese. A fat bastard, according to the Revised Canada Health Act passed five years before by the federal government. The Fat Act, as it was known to everyone in CRC-17, was an attempt to help citizens deal with their weight problems, because it gave them a simple choice: Stay at a healthy weight (i.e., not obese) or forgo your government-funded health care. (And in fact, any reasonably priced private health care policy, because obesity was listed as a pre-existing condition.)
The space structurally resembled a prison cell except there was a door, and a screen around the toilet/sink area. The decor was definitely not prison-issue: instead of a bunk, Keelan had imported a nice double bed. He'd decorated the walls with paintings he'd created in his years at art school, and he had a small workstation that ate up the rest of the free space in the cell.
A shadow appeared outside. Keelan could see the shape through the opaque plastic door, and he opened it.
"So you think you'll do it?" his visitor asked.
Wayne Falco was a large man – much heavier than Keelan, probably closer to a 40 BMI than 30 – who had been in CRC-17 since the Correctional Service of Canada opened it up five years before. Wayne had been in the first year of medical school when the Fat Act had been passed; he couldn't afford to pay for his own health care, and he knew he would need it. Plus the school had kicked out everyone who had a BMI higher than the normal range, part of a PR exercise supported by the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
He repeated his question: "So you want to do the surgery?"
It was tempting. Keelan had been diligent about losing the weight, but after two years, it was clear he was going to need some kind of special help to get out.
"Go over it again," Keelan said.
"No. I want an answer," Wayne replied.
"Please. I'm just worried about the side effects," Keelan said.
"Do you want me to do the amputation or not?"
Keelan had given it careful thought, and he believed the left leg was the better choice, even though it was the right leg that had been injured playing high school football. The right had a blown-out anterior cruciate ligament, but another (slimmer, less shady) surgeon had expertly reconstructed it fifteen years before (courtesy of the health care system), and it had been fine ever since. The left knee always gave Keelan trouble, and he suspected something was wrong with it anyway. Besides, he was right-handed, which meant right-legged, too, didn't it?
"I don't know," Keelan said. "Explain to me again why we can't just suck the fat out."
"Because I don't have that kind of equipment. The only thing I can do – and not kill you – is a quick, relatively painless amputation."
Only that morning he'd told his buddy Greg Bestard he'd be an idiot to amputate a perfectly usable leg, but that had been in the morning, before he'd had his daily weigh-in. He'd somehow gained a pound overnight. And he'd snapped.
"And there's really no cost?"
"Unless you want some morphine. Which I really recommend. That's a hundred. The rest of the operation is free, provided I get to keep your leg."
"What do you do with the leg?" Keelan asked.
"What do you care? You're the one having it cut off," Falco said. He looked at his phone, as though he was bored by the whole conversation.
"Yeah, but that's just so I can get out of here."
"Then leave. Nobody is going to stop you," Falco replied.
"Don't be a douche. You know why I can't do that."
At the two-year mark of Keelan's stay in CRC-17, a couple of things happened. The first was that he reached a statistical milestone that meant his odds of ever getting out of the Fatness were very low. After being in the CRC for two years, fewer than 5% of inmates lost enough weight to escape. The other was that he would lose his job. He worked as a web designer for the local university's communications department. Under the act, employers were required to hold an employee's job for two years or until they lost the weight. After that, they were able to let the lazy, fat bastards go. So it was lose the leg or pay for his own health care. For his whole life.
"Lose the leg," Falco urged. "How much do you weigh?"
"Two hundred thirty at the morning weigh-in," Keelan said, keeping the despair out of his voice.
"Then your leg should be about ... twenty-three pounds," Falco said, plugging the numbers into his phone. "And you're what, six feet?"
"Five foot eleven."
Wayne did the calculation on his mobile. "Hey, congratulations, man, that would do it. You'd be sitting pretty at 28.9 BMI! Well under!"
The BMI – the body mass index – ruled their lives.
Keelan looked a little sick to his stomach. He couldn't believe he was even contemplating this. He thought about all the things he would no longer be able to do: no more hiking, no canoe trips (sure, he could do the water bits, but no portaging), no jogging – his main form of exercise. There were probably a zillion other things, but they had pretty good prosthetics these days, right?
Wayne could sense his indecision. "You know, I don't often suggest this, but you have pretty good calves – lots of meat there."
"I mean muscles. Lots of muscle. They're heavier, right? And all you really need to lose is what?"
"Up until my weigh-in, fifteen pounds. Now, sixteen, I think."
"Look, the calf weighs about a third of your leg weight. So let's say eight pounds. What if you lose eight pounds, and we just do the lower part of your leg? It's really easy to rock a prosthetic if you've still got the knee. I'll do it for you as a favour. I won't really be fully compensated for the surgery, but hey, I'm not exactly busy, right? And then you're out of here."
Keelan's friend appeared. Like the other two, Maximillan Tundra was overweight. Fat, actually (BMI 34.9). But he carried himself with a certain confidence, if not swagger. He had a medical degree and was once a psychiatrist before he'd lost his job for professional misconduct. Max was a bit out of breath, having learned from Keelan's friend Greg that Keelan had gained some weight and that he'd been talking with Falco. "Falco – you fucktard – get away from that lad or I swear to god –" he took a big gulp of air and finished "– I'll drug your ass back into the Stone Age."
"Max! Buddy! I'm just doing a bit of business here. So let's be cool, okay?"
"Let's be cool? You're talking about mutilating my friend. I'm not going to be cool, you ghoul. You pit-stained, long-pig-eating, pre-med wannabe."
"I'm close with Taggart, man. You can't talk to me like that."
Max flicked the guy's nose and shouted, "Touchémalinga!"
Falco had no idea what that meant. Neither did Keelan, but Keelan did think it was kind of menacing and funny at the same time.
"Later, kid. Tell me your decision when this maniac isn't around," Falco said.
"No, it's okay. I don't want to do it. I just wanted to know if it was possible."
"Sure," Falco said, trying to be magnanimous at the loss of his patient. "Besides, it's only sixteen pounds. You could lose that in a couple of months."
Keelan's shoulders slumped, and Max waved his hand at Falco. "F-ffff."
"You're a fucking lunatic," Falco said.
Max grinned and waggled his eyebrows as the hobby surgeon walked away.
"What does 'touché malinga' mean, Max?"
"Malinga is a Sri Lankan bowler, I believe. Cricket. Now, let's go for a walk, because, clearly, you need some cheering up."
Pre-med wannabe or not, Keelan thought there might be something to Falco's diagnosis of Dr. Tundra's mental health.
As they walked to the commons, Keelan asked Max if it was true about the cannibalism.
"Oh yes, the legs are eaten. They did the first one before you arrived."
Max had been in CRC-17 for nearly as long as Falco; in fact, Max had been in and out of CRC-17. He'd lost all the weight he needed to get under 30 BMI and, within a year, gained it all back plus some extra. So he knew all the stories about how Colin Taggart and his Heavy Hitters took over the institution. Nominally, the CRC was run by Corrections Canada, but in fact, the gang run by Taggart were the real power in the institution.
"I can't think of anything more repulsive," Keelan said.
"Kee, as you know, I'm not really into boundaries, but I agree. Anthropophagia always struck me as really disgusting. A taboo for the ages." Max paused, running his hand through his thinning red hair, and asked, "But have you ever smelled leg of human, roasted with garlic, honey, and loving care?"
"Then don't judge."
"Max, you didn't –"
"Of course not! I'm just saying it smelled pretty damned good. Plus, you know, it was like they were making a point."
"That they're disgusting pigs? That they deserve to be in a real prison, not just the Fatness?" There were many nicknames for the Calorie Reduction Centres: The Girth Gulag. Chubby Choky. Plump Prison. The Fatness. They all gave the impression, but not the facts: the CRCs were concentration camps for the generous of flesh. Sure, cushy, non-death-dealing camps with running water, full free Wi-Fi, and on-staff exercise coaches, but the facilities were designed to keep an unwanted population sequestered and out of sight of polite company.
"No. That they don't care about the rules. They're here and they don't care, and they are going to run things as they see them."
"Yeah. Which is why we have to fight them."
"Sure," Keelan said.
"What's that mean?"
"Max, I like you, and I know you've got your heart in the right place, but I'm not signing up for any doomed crusade. I just want to lose my weight and get the hell out of here. The only reason I'm talking to Falco at all is because I'm near the two-year mark. If I don't lose enough weight, I'll lose my job. I know you may not care about what you do for gainful employment, but I do."
"Fair enough. I'll be fighting the good fight alone until you get wise. Until then, I'll papadums alone!"
They didn't talk as they walked through the common areas, the parts of the CRC that were open to all the "patients". On the subfloor they passed through the small gymnasiums, cardio pens, aquafit centre (a pool, mostly shallow end), and resistance training rooms. These were known, collectively, as the Dungeons to everyone but the Neckheads, who practically lived in the resistance training rooms, i.e., where they stored the free weights. Keelan was a regular user too, though he didn't have the body-fat ratio of the bodybuilders.
On the main floor, the large gymnasium had actual stands, almost like those you'd find in high schools, except not quite as flimsy – they had to support more than the lissome thighs of teenagers, after all. The idea behind the gym was the "patients" of the CRC would form sporting leagues and better their physical beings by partaking in regular athletic competitions. This pipe dream never materialized, and the gymnasium had become an ad hoc gathering place. At first the CRC administration had been unwilling to let their charges use the room for non-exercise purposes. A rash of suicides and the ensuing glare of titillated media attention convinced them they should be using all methods possible to keep their fatties happy. Now the big gym was a market, coffee house, and occasionally, it was used to hold dances. These were cringeworthy, but helped stave off cultural ennui and, if nothing else, gave people something to talk about.
This commons area was flanked by four wings of residences – two for men and two for women. Married couples were allowed to "blend" their BMI scores, and if their net score fell into the obese range, only one member of the couple was legally required to lose weight. The designers of the Fat Act did not like this exception, but it was too expensive to create the facilities for entire families to live in the Calorie Reduction Centres.
Not coincidentally, divorce rates were up around the 90% range for thin-fat marriages and now had the social acceptability of an antebellum mixed-race marriage.
The cost of housing all this human flesh was also why there was a strict age range on the act. Only adults between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were required to keep themselves trim. Outside of that range (even Baby Boomers, older Gen-Xers, and those on the cusp) were allowed to stack on as much weight as they wanted. Kids got a pass too, but only until they were old enough to vote. Then they were pretty much fucked.
There was a rumour going around CRC-17 that the Subcommittee on Obesity, which had drawn up the legislation, had other criteria for deciding who would be asked to go to a CRC. The word was out that less attractive persons who were overweight were more likely to be sent than the hotter fatties. Nearly twice as many men were sent as women, but that was because amongst fat married couples, it was unthinkable that children should be without their mothers.
As they entered the commons, Kee spotted his friend Greg sitting at the coffee bar in the gymnasium with Tracy Bloomfeld, one of the staff exercise coaches. He waved at Greg, who smiled, but didn't seem to want to be interrupted.
"Our young African-Canadian friend has discovered Tracy, it seems," Max said.
"What do you mean discovered?"
"Heh. I'll let you ask Greg the next time you scalawags get together."
"What are you insinuating?"
"I'm not insinuating anything. But don't you think it odd that Ms. Bloomfeld should choose to work in a CRC, yet maintain a body mass index clearly in contravention with the act?"
"So she's heavy – so what? Everyone here is."
"Yet she leaves the CRC every night to enjoy the world beyond the Fux." This was Max's personal term for CRC-17, Uxford County, but it had never caught on. Kind of like the way he kept trying to revivify his childhood saying "No guff."
"Maybe she's rich. Doesn't need the coverage."
"Or perhaps she's found a way to eat her cake and have it, too."
"Don't you mean the other way around?"
"No. I spoke correctly. It is the only logical construction of that banana. One can always have their cake and then eat it." Max held out one hand and pantomimed eating it. "One cannot eat the cake and have it, too. Because one has eaten it; it is consumed. Now, I'm going to head back to my capacious giraffe, where I plan to read for a while and try not to think of cake. Shall I join you and young Gregorovich for luncheon?"
"You give me a headache, you know that?"
"You can thank me for saving your leg by letting me eat some of your state-sanctioned Jell-O."
"Sure," Kee said. "I'm on a diet anyway."
The Fat Cell
The average human has forty billion fat cells. These tiny, glistening, oleaginous buggers are designed to store energy for when we need it. Along with the brain, the liver, the pancreas, and the stomach, fat cells manage our energy needs as well, maintaining constant communication through our blood system.
This system is highly efficient and evolved over millions of years, during most of which humans were worried about starving to death.
And long before the invention of the cheeseburger.
Excerpted from "The Fatness"
Copyright © 2017 Mark A. Rayner.
Excerpted by permission of Monkeyjoy Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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