Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

The Makedown: Gitty Daneshvari

Written by Kate Willsky
 Active Image In retrospect, The Makedown’s cover design may have been intentional. The hot pink letters; the author photo that recalls an aspiring model’s headshot; the cheesy, neologistic title; the back-cover blurb (“Anna Norton used to be fat; now she’s not and has a hot boyfriend. But is he too hot?”)—maybe it all worked to drive home a larger message: superficiality belying superficiality. Yeah, the book looks like a shallow fluff-read, but then isn’t it shallow to judge a book’s shallowness by its shallow appearance? Nevertheless, I decided that I wouldn’t like The Makedown before I started reading it. 
In retrospect, The Makedown’s cover design may have been intentional. The hot pink letters; the author photo that recalls an aspiring model’s headshot; the cheesy, neologistic title; the back-cover blurb (“Anna Norton used to be fat; now she’s not and has a hot boyfriend. But is he too hot?”)—maybe it all worked to drive home a larger message: superficiality belying superficiality. Yeah, the book looks like a shallow fluff-read, but then isn’t it shallow to judge a book’s shallowness by its shallow appearance? Nevertheless, I decided that I wouldn’t like The Makedown before I started reading it.

This was pretty easy at first. The writer, Gitty Daneshvari, renders her protagonist, Anna, with the embellished strokes of a seasoned caricature artist. Anna is a fat, bumbling nerd who rarely provokes laughter or empathy from the reader. This portrait, along with wonkish grammatical quibbles, allowed me to maintain my negative opinion throughout the first section of the book. By the middle of Part II, though—there are five parts—the annoying elements suddenly became, well, less annoying.

Sure, the plot was a stretch at best (we’re supposed to buy that Anna went from an abysmally grotesque Midwestern nerd to chic Manhattanite with a hottie boyfriend, Ben, within seven months), but the other trappings of the story (including a fairy godmother figure, “FG”), indicate that Daneshvari wasn’t going for realism. It’s a fairy tale, unfolding in a world of extremes and stereotypes. Anna’s social ineptness, while a bit overblown at times (the first time she meets Ben, for example, she tells him that he has a nice ass. I mean, seriously, who actually acts that asinine?), ultimately works, echoing her neurotic inner voice: “My behavior is alarmingly reminiscent of a character’s in a bad sitcom,” she observes, and she’s right. But also like a bad sitcom, sometimes the humor triggers moments of genuine funniness (a tryst with a young suitor deemed “the Junior High field trip to my pants”), redeeming the antics that fall flat.

Fat jokes, Daneshvari’s default gag, can become grating, as can the relentless descriptions of Anna’s pre-makeover self—one particularly graphic passage references “cellulite curds,” “blubber-roll fungus,” and “pus-filled sacs;” I found myself wondering how the gorgeous author on the back cover had gleaned these tidbits about the trials of an overweight woman. Also, those of us with food/weight/body issues (aka all humans) could be upset by sensitivity-deficient passages like the aforementioned or detailed accounts of what Anna eats and skinny PR girls vomiting up their fancy hors d’oeuvres.

On the flip side, Daneshvari sporadically lays off the humor to expose the real distress that comes with being unattractive in an appearance-oriented society. She touches upon the emotional roots of overeating, and the shame, secrecy, and helpless self-disgust that accompanies it. More unexpected poignancy appears as Anna’s relationship with Ben deepens. And Part V (mostly) foregoes slapstick to solidify Anna’s status as a three-dimensional character. The last five chapters of The Makedown are heart-wrenching and will resonate with anyone who has felt deep, inescapable remorse about the way they treated the one they loved.

A steady stream of mid-90s pop-culture references (‘N Sync, Felicity, mix tapes), plus a few Danielle Steel-esque sexual encounters and some f-bombs, keep The Makedown firmly in the realm of pop-lit. But these elements are, of course, superficial. The real emotion of the story remains. By the novel’s end—notwithstanding the slightly saccharine but understandably necessary epilogue—I genuinely felt not only for Anna but also for Ben. And here, the fairy tale nature of the story disappears. There’s no hero, no villain, no clear ending to hope for. Characters blunder, their redemption remains incomplete, and happiness—instead of coming in the form of a glass slipper—develops gradually, encompassing all the fading pain and bittersweet nostalgia of the past.

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