Eating My Feelings
There’s a great memoir about growing up as a fat kid in the suburbs of a Northeastern metropolis and blossoming into a fabulous writer who lives in Manhattan and finally embraces the craziness of his family.
That would be Frank De Caro’s "A Boy Named Phyllis." Mark Brennan Rosenberg’s "Eating My Feelngs" covers much the same territory, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Even if I hadn’t re-read De Caro’s book only a few weeks before I suffered through "Eating," it would still have come across as profoundly shallow, self-absorbed and ephemeral. If, as Truman Capote famously said about Jack Kerouac’s "On the Road," that it was typing, not writing. "Eating" is not writing, it’s blogging. Andy Warhol had it half right: In the future (that’s now), everyone will have written a memoir in 15 minutes.
It’s entirely in keeping with the contents that this book has a cover blurb from a star of a TV show, Alison Arngrim, "Little House on the Prairie," who -- you guessed it -- wrote a memoir. She calls "Eating" author Rosenberg "the gay love child of Ignatius J. Reilly and Chelsea Handler." Perhaps the union of a fat, reclusive suicide whose only novel posthumously won him the Pulitzer Prize-winning in fiction and a snide cable personality whose best-selling vomit has been called the death of literature would look like this.
I don’t know. What I do know is that "Eating" is more of a manuscript than book, two (or three or four) drafts away from anything resembling a coherent narrative.
We learn that the author grew up in an unidentified suburb of Washington, D.C.; that his parents divorced, and his father married someone Rosenberg didn’t like; and that he was a fat gay kid who went to fat camp when all he really wanted was to sing show tunes at a theater camp.
There are snippets of information that he attended college, drank too much, quit drinking; lost weight; worked odd jobs in New York City before finding success as a blogger (about himself, naturally), and had a lot of lousy dates and mediocre sex.
I’m not sure if Rosenberg ever heard of Fran Lebowitz, but this Warhol protege was writing acerbic essays putting down exercise and extolling cigarette smoking as fabulously retro when he was still a pischer running home from school for daily video viewings of "The Sound of Music."
Aside from a narrative form that’s so loose there are times when I couldn’t figure out what decade it was, "Eating" is full of sentences like this one: "The fall of 1990 was magical." Is that meant to be sincere? Or satire? Any reasonable person would say the latter (even though there’s no mention of the Reagan Administration, AIDS or even shoulder pads and big-hair rock bands). I certainly couldn’t figure it out.
Maybe the fact that Rosenberg’s entire literary reference points are limited to shit TV shows like "Falcon Crest" is really a hyper-arch meta way of poking fun of old farts like St. Augustine and Rousseau who were so fuddy-duddy that they actually wrote about their lives because they believed in old-fashioned stuff like ideals.
Maybe a way-too-long chapter interweaving a boot camp-type video workout series with a series of Grindr hook-ups is meant to poke fun at all those dead white guys Rosenberg obviously didn’t read in college who thought they were actually contributing to world literature when they composed complex narratives. Too bad they hadn’t figured out capitalizing sentences like "WHAT THE FUCK" gets the point across so much more efficiently.
Or maybe "Eating My Feelings" is just lazy, vapid and emptier of calories than a hot-fudge sundae.
by Mark Brennan Rosenberg
Eating My Feelings
By Mark Brennan Rosenberg
Published by Three Rivers Press