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by Joyce Zonana

The Jewish Thing, Southern Style

Combating both racism and an eating disorder

In one of her incisive short poems, the English poet Stevie Smith assumes the voice of a dead man: “I was much further out than you thought,” he moans, “I was much too far out all my life / And not waving but drowning.” Luckily for the heroine of this quietly powerful novel, Saving Ruth (William Morrow, $14.99), by Zoe Fishman, her friends and family do realize that she is drowning, even while she insists that she is waving. Nineteen-year-old Ruth Wasserman, “Wass” to her friends, “Ruthie” to her parents and her brother, is home after her freshman year at the University of Michigan. Having spent her childhood self-conscious about her weight, she’s proud of her new look — 45 pounds thinner than when she graduated from high school. Trouble is, she remains obsessed with her body, unwilling to eat more than a few calories a day lest her stomach begin to bulge or the line of her jawbone be blurred by fat. Back home in her sleepy South Alabama town, she makes a mental list of what she will do for the summer: “lifeguard, coach, and not gain weight.”

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