Suzanne Brown has just started in her new position as editor for a magazine for large ladies in the literature department of the University New York in Albany.
Suzanne is a large woman herself, both in stature, appetite for food, and, as her alter-ego Suzanne LaFleshe, for sex. Men desire her, and she engages in many casual liaisons, but there is one particular man, aspiring poet Sam Tindall, who Suzanne finds herself falling for. Although he is only too willing to give her his body, Samís poems are all for his wife, Diana.
When Sam dies suddenly on campus, Suzanne refuses to accept that it might just have been a tragic accident. She takes it upon herself to find out what really happened, and as she starts to build a picture of Samís life, with every revelation she realizes she may not have been as special to him as he was to her.
Initially Suzanne turns to two men for comfort: her friend and occasional lover, poet Morris, and the head of the University Police, Charles Clark. But as her life becomes increasingly complicated and her life is threatened, she turns away from both food and sex.
Hollis Seamon has created a wonderful character in Suzanne LaFleshe, generous, confident and intelligent with a penchant for procrastination when it comes to writing her PhD dissertation.
This book is also full of other great female characters. Suzanne lives with a ninety-plus, wizened old lady named Molly and a menagerie of pets. An eccentric practicing witch, Molly can sense an evil presence directed towards Suzanne and tries to teach her to be more aware of what's happening around her.
Ronelle, Suzanneís assistant at the magazine and in her investigations, is an ex-farm girl who has worked hard to find her place in academia. Having little money to pay rent or buy food or clothing, Ronelle is forced to bed down in the office. These three central characters, all from different cultural backgrounds, become a support network for each other, an alternative to the Ďtraditionalí family unit.
The sensual scenes set in Suzanneís kitchen as she prepares meals for her friends are mouth-watering. The contrast of the welcoming warmth of Suzanne's kitchen to the ice-cold winter outside is stark, emphasizing the importance of the house as a home and a place of protection. Seamon also applies a similar amount of detail to some of Suzanneís sexual encounters.
Seamon makes the idea of being big very attractive. All men are easily seduced by Suzanne, but at the same time most, too, are also dazed by the beauty of one of her rivals: Samís wife, Diana. In Suzanneís amiability and ample appetite, she is juxtaposed with Diana, a cold woman who starves herself of all gastronomic pleasures. Where Suzanne is spontaneous and passionate, Diana is almost machine-like.
There are many interesting themes and elements in this book, from cannibalism and witchcraft to desire, self-hatred, and obsession. An abundance of references to literary classics suggest Seamon has obviously done her homework and that maybe she herself should write Suzanneís dissertation. Seamon is not only concerned with human relationships but also the mutual companionship of pets, about which she writes with great affection.
Ultimately Flesh offers the reader a positive portrayal of big women and made this reader head straight for the kitchen to rustle up a little something. Of course, the health implications of such a diet of cream, butter and all the things we're not supposed to eat are irrelevant in this context - this is fiction, after all.