Greg searches for his adult drug-addicted son, GJ, who has gone missing for a longer stretch than usual.
Despite the title, Eat Only When You’re Hungry isn’t a book about dieting.
But it is a book about excess and the addictions and indulgences that never quite seem to slake the hunger inside.
GJ, Greg’s 30-something-year-old son, has spent most of his adult life in a series of failed attempts at rehab. It’s common for GJ to go missing, but this time, it feels different. It feels foreboding.
Greg is only play-acting at life these days. He’s punching in his days as if they’re a job for which he has no enthusiasm.
He’s in an amicable but stale marriage. He retired early, only to fill his days with not much more than TV-watching. It’s not too difficult for him to take a break from his own life to rent an RV and go searching for GJ.
Along the way, Greg reminisces about his own life and his parenting of GJ. It isn’t pretty.
This book dwells in the messiness of adulthood. It’s the marriage that is so seldomly tended that it shrivels. The father who sees the kid as an inconvenience. The many small (and not so small) mistakes of parenthood that add up to big problems in the child. One whiskey that leads to 4 more. One half-hearted affair that leads to 4 more.
Listlessness that slowly morphs into resentment, into complacence, into detachment, into self-destruction.
Greg loves GJ in theory but hasn’t been so good about putting it into practice.
“‘My problem isn’t that I can’t let go,’ Greg wanted to say. ‘It’s that I never held on.'”
Greg has so many chances for his own and GJ’s redemption, but just can’t be bothered. Eat Only When You’re Hungry is not necessarily a portrait of a terrible or abusive parent, although he does make some very bad decisions as a father. It’s more a portrait of a man who fails his son because he’s too empty to make the effort for anyone; his son, his wife, himself.
Beautifully written. Haunting. This is one I’ll turn over in my head for a while.