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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review: Dietland by Sarai Walker

Wow, is this book refreshingly different! I had heard some of the plot, but I still wasn't quite prepared for it. Partly I think the cover and the beginning of the book make you think "chick lit," even if you hear it's subverting that genre. But that's perfect. It's the most subversive for you to first be immersed in exactly the tone and subject that is then turned on its head.

Plum is very overweight, which is unusual in New York (you have to walk everywhere). For her job she answers emails from readers to the editor of a prestigious teen fashion magazine (think Glamour). She thought they were being nice when they suggested she work from home, not that they didn't want someone her size in their office! One day, while working at a local cafe, she notices a young woman who she's noticed a few times recently--is she being followed? And then someone leaves her a book--an expose of the diet program she was a member of in her late teen years written by the daughter of the founder. And then Plum meets a couple of women who want to help her. No, they don't exactly want to help her have the bariatric surgery she has scheduled, although if that's what Plum still wants after she listens to them, they will pay for it. But they want her to listen to them and what they have to offer. And what they offer is something rare and precious in this day and age: acceptance.

Meanwhile, someone (or someones) calling herself "Jennifer" has begun kidnapping and blackmailing people around the world so that now England's tabloids run pictures of naked men instead of topless women, imams suggest men blind themselves instead of women covering themselves, and the world's most famous porn star is publicly murdered. How are these events tied in? The stalker woman has disappeared--is she Jennifer? Are there many Jennifers?

A highly subversive farce, Dietland is a funny but deeply important book that all women (that's right I said ALL) should read. It will make you think deeply about your own body issues, about how you have dealt with them over the years, about the media's body shaming and slut shaming, and it will not leave you quickly. It's brilliant in how it takes chick lit tropes and dumps them on their head. It isn't a perfect book (no farce ever really can be as the balancing act between story and message is so tricky, they both are so heavy), but it will keep you reading and rooting for Plum (and honestly I was rooting for Jennifer, too! While murder and vigilante justice are normally a bridge too far for me, there's certainly satisfaction in seeing rapists who've gotten away with their crimes, finally treated to their just desserts.)

A friend at the publisher got me a copy of this book.

1 comment:

Jonita said...

I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this one! I have it in my TBR pile right now. Time to bump it up!