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Eat Only When You're Hungry by Lindsay Hunter
Literary fiction

Eat Only When You're Hungry

by Lindsay Hunter

Excellent choice

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Quick take

Spoiler alert: bad choices outweigh good ones in this novel.  And yet the hope is there.


Achingly funny and full of feeling, _Eat Only When You’re Hungry_ follows fifty-eight-year-old Greg as he searches for his son, GJ, an addict who has been missing for three weeks. Greg is bored, demoralized, obese, and as dubious of GJ’s desire to be found as he is of his own motivation to go looking. Almost on a whim, Greg embarks on a road trip to central Florida—a noble search for his son, or so he tells himself.

Greg takes us on a tour of highway and roadside, of Taco Bell, KFC, gas-station Slurpees, sticky strip-club floors, pooling sweat, candy wrappers and crumpled panes of cellophane and wrinkled plastic bags tumbling along the interstate. This is the America Greg knows, one he feels closer to than to his youthful idealism, closer even than to his younger second wife. As his journey continues, through drive-thru windows and into the living rooms of his alluring ex-wife and his distant, curmudgeonly father, Greg’s urgent search for GJ slowly recedes into the background, replaced with a painstaking, illuminating, and unavoidable look at Greg’s own mistakes—as a father, as a husband, and as a man.

Brimming with the same visceral regret and joy that leak from the fast food Greg inhales, _Eat Only When You’re Hungry_ is a wild and biting study of addiction, perseverance, and the insurmountable struggle to change. With America’s desolate underbelly serving as her guide, Lindsay Hunter elicits a singular type of sympathy for her characters, using them to challenge our preconceived notions about addiction and to explore the innumerable ways we fail ourselves.

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Eat Only When You're Hungry
It was too late to be a lunch, too early to be a dinner, this disappointing collection of food Greg was packing. He was leaving in the odd smear of time between the markers of his day. Not in the morning, not in the night. Not even in the midday. After lunch, before dinner. The sun was out but getting lazy. Everything starting to give over, accepting that this day's moment was swiftly passing. Maybe that was why he finally left. He had to get away from the giving over, for once. His son had been missing three weeks. He was packing a meal using what he had in the fridge. A buttered heel of bread, a rhombus of stiff cheese, a puckered tangerine, its skin loose around the wedges inside it. When had he last bought tangerines? It had been months. Maybe a year. Sometimes what he thought was a long time passing ended up being only a few weeks. Hey, when was that, last summer? Last Christmas? And his wife answering, Honey, that was only just last month. So who could know when anything actually happened? When he was a child he often had to mark time for himself. Today is Tuesday, that I know for sure. He was already looking forward to ignoring the lunch, stopping somewhere along the way, having a conversation with a waitress. I'm looking for my son. What came next? Shock? Admiration? He liked anticipating these kinds of things. The house was implacable. Quiet and unaffected. When he left, for all the time he'd be gone, the items in the house would stay in the same place. The house was not asking him for anything; the house wasn't begging him to stay. Instead it was watching him go. "Couch," he whispered. "Ottoman." Marking time, marking stasis. Then he said his own name: "Greg." He could just as easily have said the other names he was known by: Honey. Gregory. Dad. But at the end of the day, he thought of himself as only Greg. The buttery yellow light coming in through the plate-glass windows, at least, offered its confetti of dust. A stingy fanfare. His wife dusted often, almost daily, but sometimes you can't win for losing.

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Why I love it

What is it about the word "addict" that triggers so many contrasting emotions? Pity, fear, anger, disgust, sympathy. And what about empathy? After reading Eat Only When You’re Hungry, the empathy I felt outweighed every other feeling. I came away weeping, laughing, and nodding in recognition.

After all, aren’t we all addicted to something? Why do some of us maintain balance while others fall so hard for so little? Lindsay Hunter poses these questions through the characters of the oh-so-dysfunctional family of Greg, an obese father with one son, one ex-wife, one current wife, an elderly father, and a dead (but still dominating!) mother. Whether it is booze, love, drugs, control, sex, or food, everyone in this family craves something, and for Greg and his son GJ (Greg Junior), the cravings—for food or for drugs respectively—are overwhelming.

When GJ goes missing, Greg decides to take decisive action and track him down. What follows is a road trip that plumbs the miseries of the cycle of addiction, of failure and remorse and repeat, but does so in language so beautiful and with a portrait of family so real, I could not help but hope against hope for the best. Every character stands on his or her own, unique and vital but also undeniably screwed up, with varying degrees of trying to come clean or happily living in denial.

I’d like to stay in touch with this family—because I care about them, even as they infuriated me. Spoiler alert: bad choices outweigh good ones in this novel. And yet the hope is there, no matter how many dead ends Greg reaches. Which is kind of a definition of addiction: bad choices, veiled hope, dead ends.

The fact that Hunter made me laugh with her sharp observations of human nature and her sly asides about the human frame (she gets us, inside and out), just makes this book more of a keeper, a treasure of a novel about family, and about the heartbreak, banality, and ubiquity of addiction.

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Member ratings (1,437)

  • Jessica H.

    Steilacoom, WA

    Beautiful writing of gut-wrenching events. This is a book that when you finish, you slowly close the book and stare out into the nothingness of your existential thoughts. Eager to read Ugly Girls next

  • Jennifer G.

    Atwater, CA

    Very candid, real, sometimes uncomfortable look at addiction in all of its various forms...totally fell for Greg's warped sense of self and was totally in denial until the truth is exposed at the end.

  • Kristy E.

    Cottage Grove, OR

    Feels weird to say I loved such a sad book about addiction, denial, and the cycle of abuse...but I did. The reader goes on an emotional road trip with Greg and discovers a man who can't see himself.

  • Jess B.

    Bowmanstown, PA

    The low ratings of this book surprise me. Probably bc it's not neatly wrapped with a bow. The characters are so real, believable, lovable, hateable. I relate to each character in one way or another.

  • Grace B.

    Portland, OR

    I loved this book so much! It was super engaging, I couldn't put it down. I loved the reveal with the protagonist - we learn some details about his habits, and I'm still thinking about them.

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