Reviews for Already Published Books

REVIEW: Big Man by Matthew J Metzger

SUMMARY

39323482Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: April 9, 2018
Received From: NetGalley

Max Farrier wanted to follow in the family footsteps and join the Navy once, but he’s better off focusing on just surviving his last year of school and going to work in Aunt Donna’s shop once it’s over.

After an incident at school puts Max in the hospital, Aunt Donna’s had enough. She signs him up for private lessons at a Muay Thai gym. Boxing—she says—will change everything.

But it’s not boxing that starts to poke holes in Max’s stupor—it’s his sparring partner. Cian is fifty percent mouth, fifty percent attitude, and isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with a bully in the street. Cian takes what he wants, and doesn’t let anyone stand in his way—not even himself.

***NOTE: This is not the original blurb, which included “Max Farrier is too fat to function.” and other anti-fat language. After backlash, all mention of the main character’s fatness has been removed from the blurb.***

GENDER SEXUALITY PAIRINGS

GENDER: transgender, cisgender
SEXUALITY: bisexual
ROMANTIC ORIENTATION: biromantic
PAIRING: M/M

TAGS TROPES WARNINGS

TROPES: fat person must lose weight to be happy
TAGS: young adult, contemporary, coming of age, queer romance, queer characters, ownvoices
WARNINGS: anti-fat language, mental illness (depression), bullying, negative body image, self-hatred, slurs, gendered slurs, ableism, assault, suicide mention, victim blaming, anti-trans language, forced exercise, parental death, misogyny, hate crime, cancer mention, binary language, misgendering, cissexism, anti-enby language, vomiting, blood, physical injury, rape threat, anti-queer, outing, sexual assault mention, explicit violence, anti-native language (“savage”)

REVIEW

This book tries to be a story about a bullied fat kid learning to defend himself and love himself, with the help of his family and some new friends. But what it actually succeeds in portraying is visceral fat hatred, unnecessarily graphic violence towards a fat person, and a trans acceptance narrative through the point of view of a cis person.

According to the author, this novel is “fat positive” and a fatness coming of age story, but instead, it’s so profoundly anti-fat as to be dangerously harmful to fat readers. The prologue is literally nothing more than anti-fat hatred, with slurs being spewed left and right. In a few short pages, the main character–Max–is verbally abused by classmates and then physically assaulted by those same boys. Simply for being fat. Because he’s fat, Max kicked in the head so hard as to be knocked unconscious and required to have a short stay in the hospital. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there are multiple other verbal and physical assaults, which are graphically detailed enough to get one’s stomach roiling, making them want to vomit alongside Max. In a society that already tells us we’re useless and unlovable, this book is added to the mix, forcing readers to read continued abuse and harassment. Abuse and harassment which is only resolved through Max being forced into the gym–ostensibly for the purposes of learning to defend himself, but undoubtedly to make him lose weight as well. Because that’s the only way he’ll be able to be proud of himself and gain self-confidence–if he loses weight.

Similarly, we’re constantly reminded that Max is fat, but not in a way that’s simply reminding the reader of a fact. Instead, it’s in a way that’s meant to remind us that it’s awful to be fat, that to be fat is a burden. Max “lumbers” and “waddles,” he has “fat wrists” and “pink sausage fingers” and “boat feet” and a “flabby layer of waste.” Instead of simply describing Max’s body, unnecessarily negative connotations are applied multiple times per page. Which all boils down to the message that being fat is a curse and you’re disgusting if you’re anything less than skinny.

In the end, Max starts to accept his body, but that’s after approximately six months of working out, losing weight, and the growth spurt that comes with being a teenager. He appreciates his body for the added height, for the broadening of his shoulders, for the shrinking of his belly–he does not appreciate his fat body in any way, except expressions of amazement that Cian–the love interest–could be sexually and romantically interested in him.

Additionally, the narrative is astonishingly anti-trans considering it came from a trans author. Throughout the vast majority of the novel, Max’s observations regarding Cian’s body and other features are upsettingly callous. Even after Cian tells him that he’s a boy, and later clarifies that he’s trans, Max continually comments on how “girly” and “feminine” Cian’s body and facial features are. Not only that, but he is disturbingly obsessed with Cian’s genitalia and breasts, until literally the last chapter of the novel, making such remarks as “Cian is a boy but under his clothes has the parts of a girl.” While some of these can be attributed to the fact that Max has not, as far as he knows, known a trans person and having trouble sorting it out on his own, the rest was just creepy and borderline fetishistic. To put it succinctly: as it regards Cian, and Max and Cian together, this book was a class Trans Acceptance Narrative, which is a story told from the point of view of a cisgender person, in which they spend a good portion of the book “coming to terms” with another person’s transgender identity.

Outside of these two major issues, there were many small ones that are too varied to name, but which can be found in the WARNINGS section above.

Otherwise, a generally issue with the writing was that the facts of the story were inconsistent in several places. For example, there’s a whole big scene where Max and his mother are talking about his father (who has died long before the book takes place), and the narration (Max’s point of view) tells the story of his parents getting married in the courthouse because his mom was nine months pregnant with him when is father returned from a tour in the Navy. But then, a few chapters later, he’s somehow completely ignorant of the story altogether. Things like these didn’t really stick out very far when compared to the other issues, but it was still noticeable.

Honestly, the bare bones plot of this book is not terrible and could have made a great story. A kid being bullied and going to the gym to learn to defend himself, meeting a cute guy and gaining confidence in the midst? Not a bad plot. It was just executed all wrong. BIG MAN is unnecessarily, violently harmful. Such graphic bullying sequences are not needed to depict a character being bullied. Repeated slurs are not needed for beating down a person’s morale and trying to hurt them. If more subtlety and care had been applied to this story, it could’ve actually been a better book. But as it stands, I absolutely cannot recommend this book to anyone, especially not fat and/or queer people.

For more details, you can view this twitter thread where I livetweeted my reading of the book

RATING

1 STAR

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

matthew j metzgerMatthew J. Metzger is an ace, trans author posing as a functional human being in the wilds of Yorkshire, England. Although mainly a writer of contemporary, working-class romance, he also strays into fantasy when the mood strikes. Whatever the genre, the focus is inevitably on queer characters and their relationships, be they familial, platonic, sexual, or romantic.

When not crunching numbers at his day job, or writing books by night, Matthew can be found tweeting from the gym, being used as a pillow by his cat, or trying to keep his website in some semblance of order.

REVIEW BY LEAH

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