Ruth Simon is beautiful, smart, talented, and always hungry. As a teenager, she starved herself almost to death, and though outwardly healed, inwardly she remains dangerously obsessed with food. For Joseph Zimmerman, Ruth's tormented relationship with eating is a source of deep distress and erotic fascination. Driven by his love for Ruth, and haunted by his own secrets, Joseph sets out to unravel the mystery of hunger and denial. This gripping debut novel is a powerful exploration of appetite, love, and desire.
In a psychologically sophisticated, almost delicate, debut, Rosen manages to portray the physical realities of eating disorders and to tie them to a host of metaphysical and moral questions about human appetite and desire. The narrator is Joseph, whose curiosity is piqued when his girlfriend Ruth's kiss tastes sickly and peculiar, leading him to suspect that her past food neurosis might be resurfacing. He begins discreetly to watch her every move, to pry in her diary for clues and to ransack the New York Public Library for everything written on anorexia and bulimia. His binge reading uncovers a psychological labyrinth of case histories and spurs his obsession with Ruth's food struggles. Rosen sheds much light on fascinating topics such as the history of fasting saints, the complex cultural and familial factors associated with eating disorders and the many philosophical questions raised by self-starvation. However, the narrative pulls only weakly, one of the main problems being that, despite some color and humor in Joseph's experience teaching English as a second language to Russian immigrants, neither he nor Ruth comes fully alive in a world wider than the one defined by their relationship. Although their concern for--and knowledge of--each other is evident, they lead rather mundane, sheltered lives. Nonetheless, Rosen's descriptions are careful and astute. His writing gathers steam, and he skillfully grafts the more bookish information onto the plot as Ruth and Joseph's fixations take them deeper into themselves.