I’ve read a bunch of books about eating disorders (both memoirs and novels), and I find it somewhat rare for a writer to truly capture what it feels like to struggle with this type of mental illness. With “Empty,” Susan Burton is brave enough to let us crawl inside her brain for awhile, but perhaps more importantly, she allows us to live inside her body. Tormented by periods of both anorexia and binge eating disorder, Burton describes the thrill and feeling of achievement that can come from restricting and the horror and disgust that can accompany a binge. With each detail, Burton unveils the complicated and terrifying journey of someone with an out-of-control eating disorder.
The majority of “Empty” is focused on Burton’s childhood and young adulthood – her complex relationships with her parents, her experience of moving to Boulder, Colorado as a girl, and all of the simultaneously confusing and exciting experiences that go along with surviving school and friends. The most captivating part of the book to me was her descriptions of her life at Yale – a time when her binge eating was the most dangerous. This was a time in Burton’s life when her eating disorder completely took over – and it’s evident in her struggles with her classes, her relationships with roommates and friends, her feelings about herself, etc. Burton describes the intense shame and hatred of herself with such clarity and openness that it’s like she’s laying bare her soul for everyone to see.
I would have loved more focus on how Burton has been able to gain some recovery from her eating disorder. For myself, recovery has been a process of ups and downs, and I was left wondering how Burton is coping with these challenges in her adult life. However, above all, I feel like this memoir is a gift to anyone who has struggled with body image or their relationship with food – even if you haven’t experienced a full-fledged eating disorder, Burton’s writing is intimate and honest enough to inspire a sort of kinship with her. For those with eating disorders, Burton’s story will most likely serve as a reminder that even in the darkest depths of despair, there is always someone who has been there and who has somehow crawled out into the light.
*Free ARC provided by Netgalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review*