Purge by Sarah Darer Littman

Purge I resisted seeking out this book at first–even though I knew from a couple of Sarah’s readings just how powerful her writing is–I think because I felt like I’d read Wintergirls and felt like I wasn’t up for another eating disorders book yet. (Wintergirls deals with anorexia, Purge with bulimia, but both books touch on both eating disorders.) Then I saw a copy sitting in the bookstore, opened it, and just got sucked in by the prose–I kept trying to put the book down and couldn’t, so finally gave up, bought it, and pretty much swallowed it in one gulp.

Purge is, in its way, a lighter book than Wintergirls–though light is relative, and Purge has its share of darkness, too–but there’s a difference in tone, and I think that difference is important, because different readers respond to different books. I think some readers will get pulled into the deep darkness of Wintergirls; others, readers who turn Wintergirls aside because they don’t want or can’t handle that darkness, might find Purge the book that pulls them in instead. Then too, the simple presence of a couple different new books dealing with eating disorders might simply up the odds that more readers will find one or the other (or both) of these books as well.

Purge had its funny moments, too, especially in some of the tensions between the “barfers” and the “starvers” at the eating disorders clinic where the story takes place. And the protagonist, Janie, has a sense of humor about her own issues, too, even as she struggles not to be consumed by them, and I appreciated that, too.

At times Purge did seem to wear its messages near the surface, but I think it’d be hard for it not to and, well, the powerful and highly readable writing (see, “swallowed it in one gulp,” above) made up for this for me.

I like the way neither Purge nor Wintergirls gives any easy answers. (And Purge’s point that while an alcoholic can give up alcohol, a bulimic can’t solve anything by given up food was well taken and one I’m still pondering.)

With both books, I was also struck by how there were portions that were a little bit triggery for me, even as someone who’s never struggled with an eating disorder. It makes me wonder if the simple fact of being a girl or woman in the U.S. (and much of the rest of the world?), with our attitudes about weight and food both, is enough to make any book that effectively takes an up-close look at eating disorders uncomfortable–a troubling thought, that, and perhaps one more reason we need these books out there, uncomfortable or not.

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