Leon Rooke David Quammen - Essay

David Quammen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Fat Woman" is a slim novel with a big heart and a sizable funnybone. Leon Rooke puts us inside the copious body of Ella Mae Hopkins … and we waddle with her through one traumatic day, sharing her secret worries and consolations, her routine travails, her battles of gastronomic will…. We share also her concern over a finger that is being choked gangrenous by her wedding ring and her curiosity as to why Edward, her husband, has begun nailing boards over the window of their bedroom. By novel's end there is resolution concerning the finger and the window—and that's the whole of the story. This admittedly sounds, in synopsis, like somniferous stuff; the small miracle about "Fat Woman" is that it remains entertaining despite its extreme simplicity of event.

One large reason for this is the richness and rhythms and humor of Southern country language, which Rooke has captured wonderfully, not just in the dialogue but throughout Ella Mae's reveries. We are swept through the novel on a gentle current of verbal comedy and quirky phraseology. (p. 15)

Beyond the charms of language and humor, "Fat Woman" is memorable for its portrayal of an exemplary and enduring love…. In fact this is one of the finer depictions of a functioning, vital marriage—with the ecstatic high moments, the desperate lows, the careenings between—that I can recall.

It is also, if Leon Rooke himself weighs anything under 270 pounds, a triumph of empathic imagination. (p. 24)

David Quammen, "Family Matters," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1981 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 17, 1981, pp. 15, 24.∗