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Literature / One Fat Summer

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A teen drama novel written in 1977 by Robert Lipsyte, who also wrote The Contender.

A summer at a beautiful spot like Rumson Lake might sound like a wonderful vacation for some, but for Bobby Marks, who can't even button his jeans or look over his belly to touch his toes, it is nothing but pure torture.

And this summer is already proving to be worse than most. His parents won't seem to stop fighting, and his best friend Joanie is apparently returning to New York City without telling him why. Worse, since this torpedoes his original plans for summer, his father insists he get a job or be shipped off to summer camp.

Stuck working as a "lawn manager" for Dr. Kahn, a stingy real estate owner determined to work the boy to death before he makes a dime, Bobby soon finds he has another problem. The local teen who had the job last summer is lurking around every corner, just waiting to get Bobby alone and pay him back for stealing the job.

But there is more to Bobby than his 200 lbs. girth. He's about to find out just how terrifying and exhilarating, how dangerous and wonderful, one fat summer can be.

Was adapted in May 2018 into a motion picture called "Measure of a Man" staring Blake Cooper and Donald Sutherland.

Provides examples of:

  • The Ace:
    • Pete Marino, who is one of the most popular guys at the lake, a champion swimmer, and part owner of the local beach club. He even manages to be one of the few shown to be nice to Bobby.
    • Captain Marks is Bobby as this, being an imagined, idealized version of himself Bobby uses to play out how he would have liked a situation to play out. The construct plays a vital role midway through the book.
  • Adults Are Useless: Rumson makes several overt threats towards Bobby in full view of witnesses, but no one seems to care. It may have to do with the animosity locals of the lake and "summer people" share.
    • A minor exception for Dr. Kahn. While he doesn't actually seem to care about Bobby, per se, he gets very angry and Rumson and his friends when they harass Bobby while he's on the job. He even threatens retaliation against the business owned by two of the gang members' father if they don't leave Bobby alone. That being said, he never thinks to file an official complaint against them, and is indirectly responsible for the Make-Out Island incident when he keeps Bobby past dark and let's him walk home alone.
  • Age Lift: Done for the movie wherein Bobby and Jodie go from 14 to 16, Rumson is old enough to have served a tour in Vietnam and been Pete Marino's elder, and Dr. Kahn is hinted to have been in World War 2.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Bobby is this to his sister Michelle, though they're still on pretty good terms.
  • Ascended Extra: Dr. Kahn went from being a minor, but important, character in the book to being a more major one in the movie, bordering on a Mentor Archetype.
  • Bad Boss: Dr. Kahn comes off as this at first, at least in Bobby's eyes. The flyer he put up indicated all he needed was someone to mow his relatively small lawn. In reality the job takes the form of full time grounds maintenance, while still offering the same pay rate. He even stiffs Bobby after his disastrous first day, docking his pay to replace the rusty old mower blade Kahn had forced the boy to use when it gets broken by a rock. If summer camp weren't the worse prospect, it's unlikely Bobby would have stayed.
  • Beta Couple: Pete Marino and Michelle Marks hit it off fairly early in the book and, while we don't see much of them together, it's implied their relationship escalates to a physical level over the summer.
  • Blindfolded Trip: Bobby is blindfolded and tossed in the trunk of Rumson's car for the land based portion of his forced trip to Make-Out Island. To his credit, before he starts panicking, Bobby does try to listen to where the car is going so he can find his way home.
  • Break the Cutie: Attempted on Bobby.
  • Cassandra Truth: Having spent the night with her boyfriend instead of babysitting Bobby like she was supposed to (and thus unaware of what happened to him), Michelle Marks asks her brother what he did all night. When he responds that he spent the night on Make-Out Island, she thinks he's being a sarcastic brat.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Early in the book, Bobby reveals that, before he became embarrassed by his weight, he actually enjoyed swimming, and was very good at it. This becomes useful in the climax of the book when he has to fight Willy Rumson after the older teen knocks them both in the water.
    • Adapted in the movie with an early scene showing Bobby in the tub holding his breath underwater. At the end of the film, rather than attack Rumson like a shark, Bobby bearhugs him, pinning his arms and holding him underwater to force Willie to surrender.
  • Censor Steam: Used interestingly in the movie when Bobby stares at a mirror after he's taken a hot bath, the surface fogged over with steam. He wipes away only enough of the mirror to reveal his face, leaving the rest of his body a blur. Given his stated body image issues and Book!Bobby's use of escapist fantasy, it isn't hard to guess what Movie!Bobby is thinking.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Main character Bobby Marks is overweight, unathletic, self depreciating, and very much a doormat. The story deals with him overcoming these aspects of his character.
  • Coming of Age Story: The plot of the book is this.
  • Composite Character: Willie's gang of about seven local teens becomes only two for the movie, one of whom is actually just a composite of two brothers, while the second would be the remaining five. Given the lack of individual characterization most of the gang members had, though, this made sense.
  • Cue the Sun: After spending a harrowing night alone on Make-Out Island, with a vicious storm to boot, Bobby arises from his ordeal just as the sun is rising over the lake to start a clear and refreshed day. He's still something of an emotional wreck, but this does mark the point where his confidence steadily begins to build anew and he stops blaming himself for the actions of others.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Used in the movie to give a more solid motive to Willie's actions in the final act after Bobby discovers Rumson making out with his boyfriend. While today that might not be such a big deal, the story is set in the 70s, and it's unlikely Willie would have survived had Bobby spilled his guts about it.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Rumson always claims his bullying is a direct result of Bobby's actions towards him. Even if that were true, his idea of payback is fairly extreme.
    • Bobby took his job, so Willie feels compelled to harass Bobby, and even robs him of a week's wages.
    • Bobby mouths to Willie in front of his friends, so Willie humiliates and strands him on an island in the lake (note; he'd actually planned to beat Bobby to a pulp, but was talked down from that).
    • Bobby disappears from the island, causing Willie to flee the lake to avoid a murder charge. Willie decides to try to blow out one of Bobby's knees.
  • Driven to Suicide: More through inaction than a threat of self-harm, but narrowly averted. Facedown on the island as he's being pelted by cold rain drops, the waves of the lake lapping at his feet, Bobby considers simply remaining still and letting the pooling water rise up to drown him. He does worry his parents will be upset at first, but it doesn't take him long to begin believing no one will really be all that upset with him dying, even thinking they may find it funny to find "a beached whale washed up on the beach." Thankfully not every part of him is ready to give up.
  • The Easy Way or the Hard Way: The choice between taking a summer job or going to summer camp is presented as this. All Bobby wants to do is loaf around the lakehouse for the summer. Whether this becomes a The Window or the Stairs choice based on the events of the book is open to interpretation.
  • Empathic Environment: Borders on Fisher King levels at times. At the start of the book, while the weather at Rumson Lake isn't bad, there are a few clouds in the sky. Any scene featuring Bobby working for Dr. Kahn will showcase oppressive heat and an overbearing sun beating down on him. The night starts out cool, dark, and cloudy when Rumson and his friends kidnap Bobby until they abandon him on Make-Out Island. The storm breaks into a cold, driving rain as Bobby suffers his breakdown in the sand, only letting up slightly as he resolves to not give up and find shelter. He wakes up to a rising sun, the clouds gone and the day refreshed, having recovered some sense of his own personal worth.
  • Erotic Dream: A somewhat generic one for a fourteen year old, arising from a recurring dream Bobby had as a kid of inventing an invisibility potion. When he tells Jodie about it, she accidentally kills the dream's appeal when she points out that Bobby would essentially be an Invisible Streaker in these dreams, and he realizes he doesn't always know how long the potion lasts.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Apparently Rumson's gang is okay with kidnapping someone they don't like, stripping him naked, and abandoning him on an island to "destroy him," but they draw the line at actually stealing cash from his wallet. (Though they don't seem to care if one of his socks gets lost.)
  • Fat and Skinny: Bobby and Jodie fit this description.
  • First-Person Perspective: The book is written entirely from Bobby Marks's point of view.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the book, Bobby comes home from his summer job, exhausted as he collapses into his bed. He imagines his flabby body melting away into his sheets, eventually getting up as a skinny version of himself. Later in the book, he's surprised to find that weeks of hard work for Dr. Kahn, as well as not feeling compelled to stuff himself on junk food, has indeed resulted in him becoming visibly thinner. Needless to say, in this version the police are not called in to learn the whereabouts of the "original" Bobby Marks.
  • Gang of Bullies: The group dogging Bobby's summer for most of the book.
  • Heroic BSoD: Utterly humiliated by a gang of hoods and left naked on Make-Out Island as it starts to rain, the chapter ends with Bobby collapsing to his hands and knees, able only to sob patheticly as he feels the cold water splattering against him. Fortunately it only lasts until the next chapter.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: Despite being alone, outnumbered, blindfolded, and panicked, the moment Rumson orders he be stripped, Bobby is determined to defend his dignity. He does manage to get in a few good hits (keeping this from being a Curb-Stomp Battle), but it's still an out of shape teenager versus six much older, fitter teens, and it's not long before they overpower him. He laments as they each pin one of his limbs to the ground that he can only struggle pathetically while they pull off his clothes.
  • Hope Spot: Summer is coming to a close, Bobby has found a sense of self confidence and reunited with his best friend Jodie, and seems to be ready to start enjoying life... The Willie Rumson shows up with a gun.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: A surprisingly minor problem for Bobby against the backdrop of his summer, but it's there.
  • I Am Big Boned: Bobby never denies being overweight, but he does seem to believe his Low Basal Metabolism (which he sets his watch to and uses as a time reference) is more responsible for it than the overeating or sedentary lifestyle.
  • I Am Not Pretty:
    • Bobby firmly believes he's just a fat, unattractive guy, and it wreaks havoc with his self esteem. It so bad, he actually doesn't realize that this is changing until someone out and out gives him proof.
    • Jodie is a more downplayed example, though that may be more to do with the book focusing on Bobby. It's certainly acknowledged that her nose is ugly, but she never seems self-conscious about it. Then you discover her parents gave her a nose-job as her birthday gift.
  • Imagine Spot: Another way Bobby likes to escape reality, usually imagining how a better version of himself would better handle a situation.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Willie Rumson's biggest problem, feeding into his nasty temper and sociopathy. His family used to own the lake the story is set in, but they've been reduced to fairly minor players in the town, particularly when the vacationing out of towners show up and start throwing their money around. When Bobby takes the job Rumson views as his, Rumson begins to fixate on Bobby, using the smaller, weaker teen who "cheated" him as a focal point for his anger.
  • Inner Monologue: Bobby is fond of these as a way to escape reality, assuming a new identity to distance himself from the problem. The fact that all of these identities are based on HIM is what gives him back his resolve during his Heroic BSoD.
  • Impoverished Patrician: A more rural example, but it's there. The Rumson family used to own the whole lake and the land surrounding it, hence the name. Rough times and bad decisions have resulted in nearly all of the land and the entirety of the lake changing ownership and becoming a vacation spot. While the family may not be below the poverty line at the start of the book, they're not the players they once were. Willie Rumson still likes to boast the lake belongs to him.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Debatable. Anyone who has lived in a resort town can probably sympathize with Willy Rumson's "Reason You Suck" Speech monologue about summer people taking over the town, particularly when you learn his family used to own the entire lake (hence its name). That sympathy lessens significantly as you read some of the cruel things Rumson submits Bobby to, and disappears entirely when he attempts to shoot a fourteen year old.
  • Karma Houdini: Rumson can feel like this if you've only read the first book. Despite mugging, kidnapping, and lethally threatening the main character, the book ends without him suffering anything worse than getting beaten up by his victim. The second book averts this, however, revealing that he set fire to Dr. Kahn's house at some point between before it and, in place of prison, is now on so many anti-psychotic drugs he's only barely functional.
  • Modesty Towel:
    • Bobby finds a serviceable one in the shack on Make-Out Island in an attempt to regain some dignity before trying to make it home.
    • The movie has his mother catching him in one when she unexpectedly returns to the lakehouse halfway through. It actually throws him off enough he can't come up with a convincing lie to cover for Michelle.
  • Moving the Goalposts: The nature of the job Bobby accepts from Dr. Kahn, at least from his perspective. Originally billed as lawn care for a small patch of grass, the job actually ends up being a full time lawn maintenance job, cleaning out gutters and trimming hedges included. Bobby is also saddled with a heavy, gas powered, push lawnmower he has to fight to keep moving forward (never mind a in a straight line), and a pair of shears that are as hard to open as they are to close. His first day is such a disaster, Dr. Kahn refuses to pay him for it, and even charges Bobby for damage incurred to the lawnmower's blade when it hit an errant rock, and even decides to cut Bobby's wages in half because he's such a disaster. However, as Bobby begins to master the workload, his sense of self-worth is also seen to improve.
    • Lessened in the movie when it turns out Dr. Kahn has not only kept track of what Bobby would have earned at the original rate, but has it in an envelope for Bobby. All he has to do is assert himself for it.
  • Muscle Angst: Part of the reason Bobby hates vacationing at Rumson Lake in particular. He's surrounded by peers showing off much better physiques than his.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Rumson has one of these moments when he thinks his prank accidentally killed Bobby. Played with in that this doesn't actually lead to a Heel Realization, Rumson just realizes his uncle won't be able to protect him from a murder charge.
  • Naked People Trapped Outside: Rumson's friends suggest doing this to Bobby instead of beating him up, because they know Willy won't escape an assault charge. It's noted that the realization they might actually do this is what causes Bobby to start to freak out when they have him locked in the car trunk.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: During the climax, as Willy is being talked down from shooting Bobby, Pete Marino decides to attack the unstable teen, riling him back up. As a direct result of this, Willy then knocked Bobby into the water in an attempt to drown him. Fortunately, Bobby turned out to be tougher than either of them thought.
  • Post-Stress Overeating / Comfort Food: Part of the reason for Bobby's weight problem. Vividly shown after his horrible first day cutting Dr. Kahn's lawn when he returns home and raids the fridge. His mother and father come home to find him wolfing down a tub of ice cream.
  • Sadistic Choice: Rumson presents Bobby with one of these at the end of the book. Either Bobby takes Rumson out to the island and let's himself be kneecapped, or Willie just shoot Bobby on the dock. Presumably the attraction of the former is supposed to be Rumson will let Bobby's friends get him medical help, but given it's a 20 minute round trip to the island... Fortunately, a third option presents itself.
  • Secret-Keeper:
    • Bobby becomes this for his sister Michelle with regards to her relationship with Pete Marino.
    • In the movie he inadvertently becomes one for Willie Rumson, who he accidentally catches having a sweet moment with his boyfriend. Spoilered because the movie is still fairly new.
  • Self-Deprecation: Bobby is quite ready to put himself down, at least in his own head, criticizing almost every aspect of himself he doesn't like. He actually starts to think the bullying he endures is more HIS fault at one point, and Pete Marino has to give him physical evidence that all the hard work he's done over the summer has resulted in him having a slimmer frame.
  • Shameful Strip: Kidnapped by Rumson and his gang and taken to Make-Out Island, Bobby is rather violently stripped and put on display in an effort to humiliate him.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Jodie Williams after her nose job is described 8j a much more attractive fashion. In the movie, Rumson even takes notice, stating she was too attractive for Bobby. Of course Bobby knows Rumson isn't actually attracted to her.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Bobby seems quite vocal about this where Jodie is concerned. Done for laughs when Pete Marino asks if Michelle is his girlfriend.
    "That's gross, she's my sister."
  • Summer Campy: Avoiding one of these is what prompts Bobby to take a summer job with Dr. Kahn. Functions as the main setting of the sequel book where Bobby gets a job as a junior councilor. It has... mixed results.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Rumson and his gang.
  • Title Drop: Done in the movie for both of the story's titles.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: In the sequel book, Bobby's new confidence and skinnier body has led to him becoming a touch conceited and ruder, at least according to Michelle Marks. Despite this, he does still retain many of his more loveable qualities.
  • Trading Bars for Stripes: The reason Willy went into the army prior to the movie. He tore a younger classmate's ear off in a fight and they wanted to try him as an adult, but his family was able to get him conscripted instead. This did nothing to improve his disposition, only make him less overt in his viciousness.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: There is hardly a scene where local hardbody Pete Marino is covered from the waist up. While this might normally serve as Fanservice for some, and certainly did for his sister, it only serves to make Bobby self-conscious about his own physique.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Marty Marks seems to have little patience with his son, even berating HIM when Marty finds out the adult Dr. Kahn is taking advantage of Bobby. Still, once Bobby begins to lose weight, Marty is the one who encourages Bobby to get a new wardrobe, over his wife's protests.
  • What You Are in the Dark:
    • Bobby gets one of these in the sequel novel. One of the children he's looking after, overstressed with too many activities, burns down Camp Mohawk's outdoor theater to take the pressure off. Bobby figures this out, but the boy's father has pull with the camp. Suddenly Bobby is being asked to instead help shift the blame to Willie Rumson, currently on a mess of drugs after being caught committing arson and unable to mount a defense for himself. Bobby has no reason to help Rumson, and the Father points out how badly a juvenile record will mess up his already troubled son's life. Not to mention wreck Bobby's chances of getting another job with the camp next summer. Ultimately Bobby recognizes letting Rumson get framed and the kid off the hook will do far more harm than good, so he decides to reveal what he knows.
    • Replaces the final confrontation between Rumson and Bobby in "Measure Of A Man" when Bobby has the option of revealing Willie is gay, and instead just opts to fight him fairly.
  • Wrong for the Right Reasons: Bobby notices his normally benign parents fighting more often, followed by his father having to return to New York for work reasons. At first Bobby thinks his Dad is having an affair, a fear he shares with Michelle, only to find out instead that Marty, in an effort to provide for his family, has lost his shirt in the stock market and is desperately trying to recoup the financial losses.