Mark A. Rayner, 343 pgs, Monkeyjoy Press, markarayner.com, $24.99
Rayner’s punchy satire depicts the modern obesity epidemic (a framing that he may take issue with) as a political ruse — one where overweight Canadians find themselves the victims when they’re rounded into Calorie Reduction Centres and forced to endure a so-called “healthy lifestyle” that always seems to perpetuate the bureaucratic system that stands to benefit from their overweight status. In short, Rayner’s depiction of bureaucracy exposes it as a kind of social vampire, sucking enough blood to fatten itself, but never so much that there won’t be more blood tomorrow. However, this is perhaps too dramatic a summary for a novel that doesn’t take itself very seriously.
Keelan Cavanaugh finds himself in one of these centres — CRC-17, or “The Girth Gulag. Chubby Choky. Plump Prison. The Fatness.” When he’s lucky enough to strike up a long-distance romance with Jacinda Williams, an activist lawyer per- forming research in his cell block, the novel quickly progresses to a prison break comedy. It has its moments, certainly, but Rayner’s characters (namely, the social circle surrounding Cavanaugh) have a habit of blending into one another, forcing any punchlines that rely on their idiosyncrasies to fall flat. Additionally, his politics sometimes blur the line between comedy and commentary, such as the moment when visiting politician Andrew Sneer is revealed to be “some smirking giant baby-man intent on turning the country into some kind of Fundamentalist Christian theocracy.” A little subtlety might go a long way.
In all, though, The Fatness is notable for its spot-on appraisal of a bureaucracy that manipulates its citizens by means of silent consent, maintaining the illusion of a moral high ground whilst benefiting economically. With such a heavy backdrop, though, Rayner’s sense of humour keeps the reading light.