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August 02, 1992|CHARLES SOLOMON

MUSCLE: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder by Samuel Wilson Fussell (Avon: $10, illustrated). Alternately fascinating and appalling, Samuel Fussell's account of his transformation from gangly beanpole to beefcake star offers more entertaining reading than many novels. At 6 feet 4 and 170 pounds, Fussell was terrified by the hustlers and hucksters of New York City, who recognized him as an easy mark. He began lifting weights to appear more formidable, but his desire to build an impressive physique soon became an obsession. Abandoning his job, friends and family, he embarked on a monomaniacal regimen of overtraining. Fussell eventually reinvented himself as an armor-plated monster of 232 pounds. But the muscles he had so laboriously acquired were only good for lifting weights and posing--he might have been able to lift a bus, but he couldn't run to catch one. By the time he placed second in the Mr. Golden Valley contest, he was so weak from a crash diet intended to bring out muscular definition that he could barely stand. However, the greatest irony of his transformation came with the realization that his new body had only increased his feelings of alienation and isolation.

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