Dietland by Sarai Walker
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Literary
The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed. Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin. But when Plum notices she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots, she finds herself falling down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms. Reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerilla group begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her own personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive. Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.
As the memes say, Dietland was so much win for me. It’s possible that part of the win came from the fact that I almost didn’t read it. Shannon at River City Reading sent me her copy and I wasn’t really arrested by the description, but I am a feminist so I thought I might as well give it a whirl, if for no other reason Shannon spent $4.07 mailing it to me.
Guys. This book will change your life. Or at the very least will have you re-examining so many parts of our culture. This book touched me in a very personal way so, before I get to the book review we’re going sit down and have a little fireside chat. Move in closer, I’m going to get a little personal.
Growing up, through my twenties, up until the point that I had The Girl four years ago, I was that girl. I was the girl who could eat as much of anything that she wanted and never gain an ounce. I fluctuated between 115 – 120 or so, never exercised until I joined the Air Force and never gained weight. Well, as so often happens once women pop out that first baby they find their bodies inexorably changed forever. I now fluctuate between 160 – 170 and it’s taken me a long time to recognize that this is my new body. Well, this is my new body unless I want to live in Dietland.
“Foxy, hot, fuckable. Whatever it was called, that’s what I’d wanted – to be hot, to elicit desire in men and envy in women. But I realized I didn’t want that anymore. That required living in Dietland, which meant control, constriction – paralysis, even – but above all it meant obedience. I was tired of being obedient.”
I freakin’ love to eat guys. I love it. I’m terrible at exercising regularly, which I should do for health reasons but that’s a different issue. Do you know what this book did for me? It set me free from Dietland. I’m a size 12, I’m going to stay that way, and I am okay with that. Okay seriously, the review now.
Dietland takes on all the issues. Gender inequality, fat shaming being one of the last acceptable prejudices, beauty culture. The writing is good, there are some characters that seem a little underdeveloped, but I almost wonder if this was intentional – if these characters are less characters and more caricatures. For me that worked with the satire and social commentary that Walker was creating.
I enjoyed every facet of this book with the sole exception being the treatment of anti-depressants in the novel. Monika mentions this in her review as well (linked below), and it’s just unclear what statement Walker was trying to make about the use of anti-depressants – but I’m uncomfortable with negativity expressed towards their use, just because the stigma against mental health treatment is so high.
The timing of the publication of this novel is perfect, the novel itself is light and airy while still packing a substantive punch of social commentary that the world needs to hear. This might be the best book I’ve read this year.
River City Reading
A Lovely Bookshelf
Books Speak Volumes
A quote for the road:
“On the Nola and Nedra Show, Nola Larson King said: “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, Nedra, and I agree with you. I don’t think that this is terrorism or lady terrorism. Do you know what I think it is?”
“I’m dying to know,” said Nedra Feldstein-Delany.
“I think it’s a response to terrorism. From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad men who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves late at night, not to dress in a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”
What do you think, Reader? Too subversive? Too weird? Let’s chat! Also – expect to see this broken down completely at The Socratic Salon some day soon!