Title: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
In The Weight of Him Billy Brennan undergoes an unforgettable journey in a startling attempt to resurrect his family and reignite hearts, his own most of all.
At four hundred pounds, Billy Brennan can always count on food. From his earliest memories, he has loved food’s colors, textures and tastes. The way flavors go off in his mouth. How food keeps his mind still and his bad feelings quiet. Food has always made everything better, until the day Billy’s beloved son Michael takes his own life.
Billy determines to make a difference in Michael’s memory and undertakes a public weight-loss campaign, to raise money for suicide prevention―his first step in an ambitious plan to save himself, and to save others. However, Billy’s dramatic crusade appalls his family, who want to simply try to go on, quietly, privately.
Despite his crushing detractors, Billy gains welcome allies: his community-at-large; a co-worker who lost his father to suicide; a filmmaker with his own dubious agenda; and a secret, miniature kingdom that Billy populates with the sub-quality dolls and soldiers he saves from disposal at the toy factory where he works. But it is only if Billy can confront the truth of the suffering and brokenness within and around him that he and others will be able to realize the recovery they need.
Told against the picturesque yet haunting backdrop of rural, contemporary Ireland, The Weight of Him is a big-hearted novel about loss and reliance that moves from tragedy to recrimination to what can be achieved when we take the stand of our lives.
The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan is a heartbreaking, poignant and uplifting novel of healing.
Following his oldest son Michael’s inexplicable suicide, Billy Brennan wants to make his son’s life and death matter. Billy’s plan to raise money and public awareness about suicide is not well received by his family yet he does not let their lack of support stop him. Publicly vowing to lose 200 pounds, he puts up flyers and pledge sheets around town and embarks on his weight loss campaign. Despite a few initial setbacks, Billy comes up with a diet and exercise plan that he sometimes struggles to stick to but with his new friend Denis Morrissey’s help, he begins shedding pounds. While his ambitious undertaking takes a toll on his relationship with his family, Billy remains fully committed to his cause. Will his efforts to raise money and public awareness for suicide prevention pay off? Can he meet his weight loss goal? Will Billy and his family heal from their terrible loss?
In the aftermath of Michael’s suicide, Billy and his wife Tricia are both trying to understand why their son took his own life. Tricia just wants their life to return to some semblance of normal and she does not understand why Billy would do anything to bring more attention to their family. Their children are, of course, struggling just as much as Billy and Tricia. Fifteen year old John is angry and Billy is often a target of his furious outbursts. Twelve year old Anna tries to play peacemaker as her parents’ relationship continues to deteriorate. Nine year old Ivor is a lot like his father and harboring numerous regrets over his self perceived failings, Billy tries to help his youngest son make healthier choices.
Billy’s struggles with weight began during childhood and over the years, he has lost weight only to gain it back time and again. Having finally given up on diets a few years ago, his weight continues to climb as he binges on his favorite foods in secret. His relationship with food is complicated and at times, turning away from the comfort he derives from it is almost a herculean task for Billy. The passages that detail Billy’s shame and low self-esteem from his excess weight are absolutely heartwrenching to read but they provide readers with a discerning glimpse into the struggles he is experiencing.
Equally devastating are effects that Michael’s suicide have on Billy and his family. Everyone processes their grief differently but they are all grappling to understand why Michael took his own life. No one is able to pinpoint anything in his behavior that should have been a red flag which makes it very difficult for them to move forward in the grieving process. Trying to articulate their feelings for their loss is virtually impossible and Billy is helpless to bridge the growing distance between him and his family. Even more bewildering to him is their lack of understanding for his need to raise public awareness in an effort to prevent another family from losing a loved one to suicide.
The Weight of Him is an emotionally compelling novel that is fast paced and engaging. Ethel Rohan handles very difficult subject matter with sensitivity and provides readers with an insightful perspective about the importance of eliminating the social stigma that surrounds both suicide and obesity. An absolutely breathtaking journey of healing that is sad yet ends on a hopeful note.