Fat Girl Fairy Boy tells the story of Frieda Kunkelheimer, an aging Hollywood actress and her make-up artist/closest friend, Robin Morris. Carol McConkie’s skilful biographical narration takes us individually through the lives of each protagonist, from birth, to the start of their endearing friendship and later on a trip destined for South America; a journey which will change their lives forever.
Frieda was always pretty, despite being labelled as ‘ugly’ by Ursula, the stern German grandmother by whom she was raised. A social recluse, Frieda is more content with the company of her animal friends, who return her affection and do not call her nasty names like the bullies at school. But her negligent childhood and further traumatic experiences cause psychological damage, a theme handled excellently by McConkie; Frieda bottles up her feelings leading to emotional detachment, she develops a hatred for mirrors and discovers that the only way to deal with these problems is to run…
Robin finds his love for fashion when dressing up with the leftover materials from his mother’s job. He is mollycoddled by his mother and this pampering leads to a fear of flying, driving and most importantly of illness, with which he is plagued from an early age. Robin’s homosexuality and lower social standing make him feel inferior in the world, until some bittersweet good fortune emerges from a heartbreak, which helps him to achieve his dreams: to become a make-up artist.
McConkie, with her expert characterisation, helps to maintain our closeness with Frieda and Robin throughout their personal journeys and struggles, as if we were part of the story; you will find yourself hoping for happy outcomes to two lives riddled with pain, shedding tears of sadness, joy and laughter along the way.
The author’s versatility as a writer is made evident as she increases the pace, injecting adventure and excitement into the second half of the novel, where a planned plane journey to Brazil goes horribly wrong.
Although this section of the novel contains the darkest parts of Fat Girl Fairy Boy, it is in this disaster that the two friends forget the superficial world of showbiz and consequently find the answer to their problems in the most unlikely place: an El Salvadoran jungle. Frieda finally fills the hole left in her heart by a neglected childhood and Robin discovers strength and boldness from a past-life.
My only complaint about the novel is that I wish it was longer! I wanted to continue reading on and on. Nonetheless, Carol McConkie achieves so much, educating us on decades of US history, through the Great Depression, WWII, 60s counter-culture and Americo-Latin American political relations. In Fat Girl Fairy Boy she has produced an absolute gem – an emotional, well-written novel of friendship and self-discovery – and I look forward to reading more from her!
– Nathan Sherratt, Twenty-First Century Classics Book Reviews