Hornbacher, Marya 1974-
Hornbacher, Marya 1974-
PERSONAL: Born 1974, in CA; daughter of Jay (a theater director and actor) and Judy (an actress and school administrator) Hornbacher; married Julian Beard, 1996. Education: Attended the University of Minnesota and American University.
ADDRESSES: Home—Minneapolis, MN. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, Inc., 10 E. 53rd St., 7th Fl., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Writer, journalist, editor, public speaker, and memoirist.
Wasted: A Life of Anorexia and Bulimia (memoir), Harper Flamingo (New York, NY), 1998, published as Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
The Center of Winter (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Before becoming a successful author Marya Hornbacher endured years of pain as a victim of the eating disorders bulimia and anorexia. As a result of her struggles to fend off the diseases, Hornbacher decided that she would write a memoir of her travails in an effort to make others, particularly girls and young women, aware of the seriousness of eating disorders. The result was her 1998 debut book Wasted: A Life of Anorexia and Bulimia.
The book, a critical and commercial success, is as much a warning as it is a life story. "I would do anything to keep people from going where I went. This book was the only thing I could think of," Hornbacher writes in Wasted. Where the disorders took Hornbacher was down an astonishing path of destruction and near death. By the age of five, Hornbacher was already telling friends, "I'm on a diet." When she entered junior high school, she had already been making herself vomit (bulimia's best-known characteristic) on a daily basis for three years. She was bulimic by the age of nine, and anorexic by her fifteenth birthday. Hornbacher goes to great lengths to describe all of the most intimate and grotesque details of her fight. "Eating disorders have the centripetal force of black holes," she writes midway through the book. Vomiting had become such a routine aspect of her life, she writes, that she "did not put a bite of food in my mouth without considering if, when and where I would throw up."
Being thin dominated Hornbacher's thoughts and actions from a very early age. She closed herself into her bedroom and went through hours of strenuous exercise, all the while "wondering if, at the age of fourteen, I could get a plastic surgeon to do liposuction on every inch of my body, suck each molecule of fat out, leaving me with nothing more than a gleeful clattering set of bones." Hornbacher reached the bottom when at the age of eighteen she had wasted away to a mere fifty-two pounds and her doctors, who officially classified her condition as "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified," gave her a week to live.
In Wasted Hornbacher, who grew up an only child to parents who had marital problems, addresses the reasons why young women develop eating disorders. She discloses that at least eight million Americans are afflicted with some type of eating disorder. She believes that there are numerous reasons for the development of bulimia and anorexia. One of her main arguments is that such afflictions are as much a result of biochemical dependency as they are a psychological disorder. She also blames such factors as self-hatred, American society's obsession with thin females, as well as the stability of the sufferer's home life. In Hornbacher's opinion, the portrayal of women by the American media creates an unrealistic body image to which young girls believe they must aspire. In Wasted, the reader is able to ascertain how an eating disorder, after it has taken hold of a person, causes a cycle of uncontrollable, extreme behavior. "Life is so muted when you have an eating disorder—and that's the point," Hornbacher commented in an interview with Ron Hogan on the Beatrice Web site. "If you don't like life, you can turn it down and have your own little sadomasochistic affair with yourself." Wasted is filled with quotes from Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and James Agee, as well as references from Alice through the Looking Glass. Hornbacher also includes footnotes that cite various medical or anecdotal sources.
After a decade of losing the battle, Hornbacher finally decided to fight back. "It was a difficult choice. A lot of people choose to die," she said in an interview with People contributors Margaret Nelson and Peter Ames Carlin. Drawing upon her experience as a freelance journalist, Hornbacher began writing about the subject, and in 1993 she published a detailed article about her ordeal in a Minnesota-based magazine. That article caught the eye of book publishers, and she was able to secure a contract with Harper Flamingo. Despite her newfound professional success, Hornbacher continued to struggle with her disorders, even attempting suicide in 1995. Accordingly, one of her underlying points is that a person is never really cured of such a disorder. The desire to vomit after eating is "still there," she notes. "It wheedles at me, after dinner: 'Come on, you're stressed, wouldn't it feel better? You wouldn't be so full. Come on, just this once?' It's always there, every day."
The critical response to Wasted was generally positive. Caroline Knapp of the New York Times called the book "a gritty, unflinching look at eating disorders," and asserted that it was "written from the raw, disintegrated center of young pain." Knapp went on to characterize Wasted as "an ambitious attempt to tease out the multiple, often contradictory roots of eating disorders." Calling Wasted "a missive sent from inside a sickness," Rebecca Mead of the London Review of Books lauded the book, but questioned the motivation behind it. However, Entertainment Weekly reviewer Vanessa V. Friedman called Hornbacher's work a "terrifically well-written book" that is "completely devoid of self-pity." A contributor to Publishers Weekly referred to the book as a "riveting, startlingly assured account." The same reviewer also wrote that its "unblinking testimonial has the nuance and vividness of an accomplished novel." Critic Donna Seaman, reviewing the book for Booklist, was impressed with Hornbach-er's message. "Hornbacher's courage and candor may help solve the riddle of why young women punish themselves for being female," Seaman remarked.
The Center of Winter is Hornbacher's debut novel, and as in her nonfiction, the book revolves around themes of enduring and recovering from tragic circumstances. In the small town of Motley, Minnesota, the Schiller family battles alcoholism, mental illness, and suicide. Arnold is an alcoholic who is devastated as his twelve-year-old son, Esau, descends further into mental illness, wracked with depression and plagued by voices. His six-year-old daughter, Kate, finds joy with her playmate and best friend, Davey, but struggles to understand why her aunt recently hanged herself, and his wife, Claire, is doing her best to keep the family together even as she feels her marriage crumbling. When Esau is institutionalized during one Christmas season, it is more than Arnold can bear; after an especially traumatic visit, he shoots himself in the head while his son is locked up miles away. Seeking support, the family goes to live for a while with Arnold's parents. Claire, after recently telling Arnold that she planned to leave him, feels responsible for driving him to self-destruction. Young Kate blames herself, too, and wonders what she could have done to prevent her father's death. At first spared the tragic news, the amiable but emotionally fragile Esau is told about his father when he is released from the state hospital. Esau also blames himself, feeling that his mental illness somehow contributed to his father's death. In the aftermath of the tragedy, after self-recriminations and mourning, the family finds the strength to go on. Claire finds a new, stronger relationship with local bar owner, Frank. Esau's positive treatment in the state hospital seems to have helped him, and Kate works hard to help her brother and her mother. Though the family again feels the effects of suicide, "Kate's epilogue reveals a happier future for her family," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic. In a novel where each character is "exquisitely drawn," Hornbacher has "created a gripping tale of a family that copes despite the odds," remarked reviewer Robin Nesbitt in the Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Carol Haggas called the novel an "eloquently evocative portrait of how one family copes with tragedy." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that "Hornbacher is a gifted writer," while Haggas noted that she "proves herself to be a master storyteller." People contributor Andrea L. Sachs concluded that "if there's heartbreak here, there's also hope—and both ring true."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hornbacher, Marya, Wasted: A Life of Anorexia and Bulimia, Harper Flamingo (New York, NY), 1998.
Booklist, January 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of Wasted, p. 758; January 1, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of The Center of Winter, p. 819.
Entertainment Weekly, January 16, 1998, Vanessa V. Friedman, review of Wasted, p. 64.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of The Center of Winter, p. 1157.
Library Journal, January 1, 2005, Robin Nesbitt, review of The Center of Winter, p. 97.
London Review of Books, May 21, 1998, Rebecca Mead, review of Wasted, p. 26.
New York Times, January 4, 1998, Caroline Knapp, review of Wasted.
People, April 20, 1998, Margaret Nelson and Peter Ames Carlin, "The Hunger," profile of Marya Hornbacher, p. 121; March 21, 2005, Andrea L. Sachs, review of The Center of Winter, p. 60.
Publishers Weekly, October 20, 1997, review of Wasted, p. 60; January 17, 2005, review of The Center of Winter, p. 36.
Beatrice Web site, http://www.beatrice.com/ (February 27, 2006), Ron Hogan, interview with Marya Hornbacher.