Sunday, September 07, 2008

Book Review: Nothing by Robin Friedman

Book: Nothing
Author: Robin Friedman
Published: 2008

Parker “You Don’t Look Jewish” Rabinowitz seems to have it all. He’s gorgeous, smart, active in his community, athletic, and popular with both guys and girls. It all comes without any apparent effort. Of course, nobody knows about his secret binges and his equally secret purges, when all the pressure and the terrible feelings of inadequacy go swirling down the toilet, leaving him cleansed and able to deal until the next time.

He manages to keep it under wraps at first. But then his dad gets breast cancer, his grades start to slip, and his new girlfriend wants to get closer. The pressure mounts, until Parker has gone from purging a few times a week to three times a day. Something’s got to give.

It may be Parker himself.

Friedman does something interesting in telling this story both from the inside and the outside. Poems from his little sister Danielle, both chafing and basking in his shadow, show the perfect facade that starts to develop cracks and then full-blown canyons. Though she knows something’s wrong, she doesn’t know what to do about it or who to tell, and so is as helpless as Parker himself in the face of his disorder.

As to what it’s like inside Parker’s head, well, that’s a pretty screwed-up place. Friedman’s POV is so intimate that you understand how little he thinks of himself and how hard he’s fighting to live up to the Parker Rabinowitz image, even if it means destroying himself in the process.

At first, Parker’s Jewish background seemed incidental, but then I realized it was just another part of the disconnect between what he really is and how the world perceives him. I wasn’t being flippant up there in the first line--Parker’s apparent non-Jewishness is commented on by almost everyone who meets him for the first time, and his dad wants him to go to Princeton because Harvard and Yale are too Jewish.

10% of all reported cases of anorexia and bulimia are men. This is a deeply moving story about one of the lucky ones.

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