“A smart, brave gift to the world. Bravo!” ―Mary Karr
For almost thirty years, Susan Burton hid her obsession with food and the secret life of compulsive eating and starving that dominated her adolescence. This is the relentlessly honest, fiercely intelligent story of living with both anorexia and binge-eating disorder, moving past her shame, and learning to tell her secret.
When Burton was thirteen, her stable life in suburban Michigan was turned upside down by her parents’ abrupt divorce, and she moved to Colorado with her mother and sister. She seized on this move west as an adventure and an opportunity to reinvent herself from middle-school nerd to popular teenage girl. But in the fallout from her parents’ breakup, an inherited fixation on thinness went from “peculiarity to pathology.”
Susan entered into a painful cycle of anorexia and binge eating that formed a subterranean layer to her sunny life. She went from success to success—she went to Yale, scored a dream job at a magazine right out of college, and married her college boyfriend. But in college, the compulsive eating got worse—she’d binge, swear it would be the last time, and then, hours later, do it again—and after she graduated she descended into anorexia, her attempt to “quit food.”
Binge eating is more prevalent than anorexia or bulimia, but there is less research and little storytelling to help us understand it. In tart, soulful prose Susan Burton strikes a blow for the importance of this kind of narrative and tells an exhilarating story of longing, compulsion, and hard-earned self-revelation.
“Susan Burton’s brave and candid book reveals the inner landscape of an adolescent girl, and the way the mind can be hypnotized by the idea of the body. Beautifully written, touching and intimate, Empty speaks to a secret shared by many American women.”
―Roxana Robinson, author of Dawson’s Fall
Susan Burton’s writing has appeared in Slate, Mother Jones, New York, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine. She is a former editor of Harper’s and a producer of This American Life. Her radio documentaries have won numerous awards. The film Unaccompanied Minors is based on one of her radio essays. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two sons.