There’s something very brave about Mark Brennan Rosenberg’s voice. In Eating My Feelings: Tales of Overeating, Underperforming, and Coping with My Crazy Family, Rosenberg is often abrasive, obnoxious, and sexist. But he’s also hilarious, blithely thumbing his nose at taboos, political correctness, and politeness. His literary voice acts a sort of Id, saying things about others that his readers may profess shock and dismay at, but are still snickering at his brilliant use of sarcastic humor.
Eating My Feelings, as the title suggests, details the story of Rosenberg’s struggles with food – but once he loses the weight, he comes to learn that he doesn’t become instantly happy. Obviously, at this point in our culture with libraries of self-help books pushing this message, Rosenberg’s story arc may seem a bit obvious and trite. But it’s not because he’s such an engaging and funny writer, that readers will find some priceless passages of writing. His story of growing up, overweight with a foul and unpleasant stepmother who acts as his arch nemesis beautifully throw out the clichéd “coming of age” tale by featuring a thoroughly unlikable lead. He becomes an anti-hero because his jaundiced view of his world, while often justified, is sour – and he provides a caustic commentary on his childhood. And we can’t help but like him – he’s what would happen if Christina Ricci’s Dedee Truitt from The Opposite of Sex became a gay man and wrote a book. Instead of being smiley and chummy, Rosenberg dares you to read him by being brutally honest in his often unkind point of view.
Because he was heavy, gay and a product of a fractured home, his life story could’ve been the kind of maudlin, if well-intentioned, memoir meant to inspire his readings. But Rosenberg hates all that schmaltz. He writes of experiences at a fat camp with a devastatingly candid and skewering wit. And despite his taste for mainstream pop music, his aesthetic comes close to anarchist punk – an expert combination of David Sedaris and Lou Reed. He’s savage in his assessment of those around him, and no one – even his loved ones – are painted as plaster paints; nor are his relationships gooey and full of Valentine’s Day slogans. Instead, he surrounds himself with people that bounce well with him, and can sling the insults just as well as he.
Once he grows up he sheds the pounds and reinvents himself as a muscle hunk. But life doesn’t become easier, because years of overeating and drowning his emotions has created a bit of an emotional wreck. His love life is just as fraught with angst and disappointment as his childhood, and thankfully, readers are treated to just as much caustic wit during these passages, as well.
And even with all the jokes, there’s still emotion and heart to Eating My Feelings. Rosenberg’s not lachrymose in his prose, but he is emotional at times – and again, there’s courage in his allowance of poignant moments, because it would be too easy for the guy to paint himself out to be a tough-talking smart ass. And he is, but he’s also a human being, who gets bruised by love and comforted by his great friends and loved ones. It’s in these quieter moments that Rosenberg lowers his fuck-you façade and lets his readers see that beneath the sometimes-jerky extrovert, there’s a soulful and genuine soul. And it’s the great juxtaposition of the two sides of Rosenberg’s literary persona that makes Eating My Feelings such a great read.