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Danielle Steel: Big Girl
Big Girl tells the story of Victoria Dawson; the black sheep in her family. Victoria is the chubby older sister who, by her family's standards, is a loser. She lives her entire life putting up with her father's biting sarcastic comments about her weight and the fact that, unlike her younger sister, she has consistently failed to snatch herself a man. And while Victoria had wanted a career in teaching, her father wanted a more prestigious job for her. Always belittling her academic achievements, Victoria grows up with some serious self-esteem issues.
Every time Victoria receives a confidence boost, it's often related to the presence of a man in her life. She makes it a lifetime habit of seeking solace in ice cream and double portions every time a boyfriend dumps her. The defining moment of her life is a nose job. While we understand that many people resort to plastic surgery to boost their self-esteem, Big Girl should have condemned the emphasis society puts on body image. Victoria is a successful high school teacher and is admired by her students, yet somehow, she only manages to feel better about herself after fixing her nose.
Other characters include Grace; Victoria's younger sister and her only ally at home. Throughout the entire novel, it seemsthat she was the only one who could see sense in the family. However, when she decides to get hitched to a narcissistic wealthy guy who cheats on her, she doesn't seem so full of sense after all.
The rest of the characters are two-dimensional and fail to sound convincing. For a novel that was supposed to tackle a serious problem faced by a lot of women, the fairytale-like ending simply didn't cut it.
Victoria is the novel's main character, and if she was supposed to invoke the reader's sympathy, she only managed to invoke this reader's fury.
Literature, media and film has been a platform for criticising unnecessary body image obsession, but Big Girl ranks at the bottom of that list. It does nothing to empower ‘big girls’; the message it sends can be summed up as follows: if your parents have been verbally abusing you your entire life, there is nothing that can make you feel better about yourself except for finding a man.
Big Girl is a disappointing novel by a long-standing author. The novel is redundant and gives the impression that Steel has run out of ideas. And although Steel has been trying to tackle a serious issue, the outcome is anything but serious.
In a section that discusses guys who marry girls for their money, the author wrote that when she was 'researching' this section, 'I googled 'men who are gold diggers' and that the search only yielded results for female gold diggers [...]'. The author came to the conclusion that male gold diggers only exist in Egypt, since, you know, google said so.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.