Volume 90, Issue 71

Thursday, January 30, 1997



Satiating the literary appetite

Gluttony: Ample Tales of Epicurean Excess
Edited by John Miller and Benedict Cosgrove
Chronicle Books
Hardcover, $14.95, 132 pgs.

Excess is the stuff which makes this compendium. From recollections of Roman vomitoriums to doughnut and cigarette diets, John Miller and Benedict Cosgrove bring forth the goods on over-indulgence from the works of Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Woody Allen, Fran Lebowitz and others.

While being enjoyable and self-depreciating, the authors create the image of gluttonous mystique – a deadly sin so entrenched in the human soul it must be either subverted or celebrated. After all, what could be more blissful than a satiated appetite? Yet what could be more wanton than consuming not for nourishment but for pleasure.

Some writers conspicuously bask in the goodness of over-eating and its physical outcome. Fran Lebowitz presents modern gluttony as a method for coping with a lustful, avaricious, ergo-stressful lifestyle. Woody Allen's narrator from Notes from the Overfed cries from his sickbed "My fat! Bring me my fat!" From observing life's atrocities, this narrator disproves the existence of God and determines, "Fat is everything. . . unless you are skinny."

Gluttony manifest in life is Bill Buford's report on a Blackpool football hooligan who spends the weekend consuming up to 18 pints of lager and several fast food items – several is an understatement. From his thug watching, Buford connects gluttony to economic ruin and physical degeneration. Likewise, The Confederacy of Dunces allies gluttony to sloth and arrogance as a hot dog vendor eats all of his wares.

Aside from the charming anecdotes, Miller and Cosgrove present a darker side to gluttony, including an excerpt of a rather smug tract on morality. This anonymously composed, 18th-century harangue bluntly disparages those lustful, gluttonous sensualists and their ungodly ways. Diane Mason's contribution provides a more agonizing punishment of gluttony. Mason invents a biblical punishment to gluttons through a seemly-eternal, lavish, dinner party.

Gluttony functions as an excellent collection of anti-indulgence lessons, some more facetious or satiric than others, best observed the day after a full evening of mass consumption while the reader occasionally glances up from a toilet bowl. I wonder what Lust must be like.

–Victoria Barkley

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Copyright The Gazette 1997