Something's Wrong with Your Scale! by Van Whitfield
(Doubleday, $22.95, PG-13) ISBN: 0-385-48935-8
****
They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. "They" neglected to warn Sonny Walker that same route leads to the waist, thighs, abs and hips.

For much of his life Sonny could eat almost anything he wanted. "I had an incredible metabolism. It usually made my food digest magically, before it became a permanent part of my then well-maintained body. I could eat anything. I worked out, played tennis, and lost weight as easily as I gained it." (Don't you just hate him?)

Everything changed when he turned thirty. Two weeks after he "hit the wall," Sonny met Marsha Minor and nothing would ever be the same. Marsha was a kitchen wizard, an excellent cook who really knew how to please her man. After a year of "regular dating and wall-thumping sex," Sonny gained fifty pounds. While he was well-fed, she was fed up with his all-consuming relationship with food.

The svelte and sassy Marsha kicks Sonny to the curb after serving up a last supper of teriyaki steak and mushroom potatoes with mambo sauce and Parmesan cheese and a peanut butter cheesecake "with some sort of gooey marshmallow glaze" for dessert, and "a sexual experience that she must have uncovered in Penthouse magazine's steamy `Forum' section."

Sonny is heartbroken. He's also in deep denial. "Something's wrong with your scale," he tells her. But Sonny's got a more urgent problem: How can he get Marsha to give him a doggy bag for the leftover cheesecake?

One year and 25 additional pounds later, he's still pining away for Marsha and her culinary skills. Extra large has evolved from a size to "a way of life." If he can lose the weight, Sonny rationalizes, he can win Marsha back. Maybe he can get promoted out of the "loose balls section" of the sporting goods store where he works. After unsuccessfully trying gadgets, gimmicks and videos, Sonny enrolls in a weight loss center group.

Kayla Jennings is part of the loss group. Kayla had "full, pouting lips that seemed perfect for kissing or eating. I placed her at about a size 24. Maybe a 22 on a good day, I thought. I couldn't help but notice that despite her weight, she was a real cutey." Kayla suggests they keep in touch to support each other through the weight-loss program.

Their early fall (or rather escape) from the wagon is not pretty. Sonny and Kayla turn eating into an art form as they rack up a $126 tab in a low-cost, family style restaurant. Despite his own girth, Sonny has "issues" about dating "a big girl." Sonny soon discovers that Kayla is "better than a Wendy's triple-cheese with ketchup, mustard, pickles, onions and an order of biggie fries topped off with a Frostie (large, of course)."

Something's Wrong with Your Scale! is a humorous, honest and bittersweet look at being overweight and overwrought in America. Something's Wrong with Your Scale! is Van Whitfield's second novel. (His first, Beeperless Remote: A Guy, Some Girls, and His Answering Machine, is being reissued in paperback this month.) Whitfield highlights the impact of weight discrimination on both men and women. It is also a commentary on health, self-image and the multimillion dollar weight-loss industry. I loved it!

In Sonny Walker, the author has created another self-deprecating hero who is clueless when it comes to relationships in the 90s. His characterization of the heroine is well-constructed and solid much like Kayla herself. She is a successful businesswoman who is comfortable with who she is, even if society is not always comfortable with the packaging. She commands and gives respect. Kayla's not a needy fat girl looking for love in all the wrong places. She has her finger on the pulse of her relationship with Sonny. Kayla's genuinely feisty and funny, and defies "fat girl" stereotypes.

The secondary characters provide much of the commentary about society's view of obesity in the workplace, in restaurants, in fashion, and within the diet industry. I would have liked more definition of the characters within the weight loss group. KJ, Kayla's smart-mouthed cockatiel, is a scene-stealing bird who hurls nonstop "fat boy" insults at Sonny. (For his part, Sonny wonders whether KJ would taste like chicken.)

Van Whitfield's first-person narrative style compliments the hero's self-deprecating wit and paces the humor. Fat jokes abound and there are times when the rapid-fire one-liners are more reminiscent of a stand-up routine. There is B-boy language that at least two characters and some readers beyond the 18-35 age range may find tiresome. Whitfield pays homage to Lane Bryant and GNC in a book with more brand-name and celebrity mentions than a sporting event.

Whether you have abs of steel or buns of Jell-O, Something's Wrong with Your Scale! will make you laugh, pause and think. Oh yeah, Something's Wrong with Your Scale! will also make you very, very hungry.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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