Eat When You Feel Sad by Zachary German
Zachary German's Eat When You Feel Sad reminds me of a food diary I kept when I was sixteen. In addition to obsessively monitoring my food intake, I wrote things like, “Painted my nails,” “Hung out with Erin and we listened to Elton John,” “Talked to Dad in the kitchen.” Then, “Wanted to eat Duncan Hines frosting with my finger, but sat on the couch and ate Baked Lays instead. Felt deprived." I didn’t realize it then, but the food diary was a way of affirming I was Alive. My days consisted of activities -- small, mundane moments overshadowed by immense teenage suffering and ennui. Writing these things down allowed me to poke through the fog of antidepressants and self-mutilation and see myself as a functioning person. Not normal, but functioning. I couldn’t imagine letting others read my diary; it just wasn’t interesting to anyone but me. Now, with German’s publication of Eat When You Feel Sad and the subsequent buzz around German as the “next Tao Lin,” not to mention someone like Dennis Cooper telling the world to read your book, I realize I should have let people read that shit. Damn.
EWYFS is tragic in an unromantic way; depression is deadpan and emotions direct: reported not revealed. An emptiness masquerading as shallowness haunts the main character, Robert. When Robert considers a possible girlfriend, he thinks, "'I don’t like her clothes and I don’t think she’s – I don’t want to introduce her to my friends, the ones that I don’t have yet but who will be more like me, vain and judgmental and stuff.’ He thinks ‘I need to stop being like this.’ He thinks ‘Run into traffic.’ He thinks ‘It’s not going fast enough to kill me probably.’” Robert wakes up, listens to music, rides his bike to the store, and sometimes goes to parties and drinks Elephant Malt Liquor. He exists in motion and occasional reflection; his presence in the world immediate and incredibly small. Although we never leave Robert’s bubble -- apartment, Whole Foods, friend’s apartment, sidewalk -- there is a vastness to Robert’s world that is crushing. This vastness is often internalized as Robert attempts to perform simple acts, like eating. An unbelievable sense of sadness finds itself in the most banal moments of everyday life: “Robert makes rice and beans. He puts salsa on the rice and beans. He eats it. He cries loudly. He looks at his cat. Robert says ‘Fuck, I suck.’ His speech is distorted by his crying. Robert laughs.”
The book draws you in despite offering very little in terms of narrative. It is a collage of scenes which are flat, underdeveloped, and vacant. There’s no telling one day from the next, as the paragraph breaks aren’t signaling the passage of time, but rather what Robert is doing: “Robert is awake,” “Robert’s cell phone vibrates,” “Robert checks his email,” “Robert walks into a store.” German’s brand of “reportage” is both annoying and vaguely hypnotic. I felt as if I were sleeping, rather than reading, through the book, and the narcotic tone of German’s sparse, laconic style works to distance the reader, yet overwhelm with a boredom of the soul. Robert’s loneliness made me feel lonely, and we were lonely together.
I should also say that EWYFS is funny, too, despite the focus of this review. I laughed out loud as Robert considered cumshots in pornography and listened to No Doubt. The line, “I’m sorry that everyone has problems. I don’t know what to do. I’m vegan.” is a quietly humorous moment between German and his audience. Even his progression in musical taste is funny, as the book opens with mentions of Blink 182 and Silverchair, two blemishes on the '90s music scene. EWYFS is a peculiar nugget of pop cultural branding, adolescent confusion, and adult desire. I’m not sure what kind of “literary career” Zachary German will have after this publication, but I do feel like Eat When You Feel Sad is a new thing, beautiful in its minimalism and disturbing in its awareness. Read it while you’re eating shitty Chinese food, then write down what you ate. You will feel Alive.
Eat When you Feel Sad by Zachary German