Dietland by Sarai Walker

April 22, 2016 Contemporary Fiction, Women's Studies 18

Greetings Bookworms,

Wow. Am I ever behind on telling y’all about what I’m reading. 99 percent of the time when I’m running behind, it’s because I’m pretty lazy. This time, though, I really needed to sit on my thoughts for a while before I could put together a blog post. That’s mostly because reading Dietland by Sarai Walker felt so… Explosive.

dietlandPlum Kettle goes through life trying to keep a low profile. Her lifelong weight struggle has instilled a desperate desire to blend into the background, a feat she never quite accomplishes. Plum works from home or a local cafe answering the fan mail and advice requests for a popular teen girl’s magazine. After years of failed diets, Plum has decided to undergo weight loss surgery.

She’s confident in her decision until she acquires something of a stalker in a college age girl wearing brightly colored tights and combat boots. When Plum tries to investigate the odd girl that’s been following her, she falls into a collective of women living life outside of society’s terms. All this comes about around the same time as a vigilante group known as “Jennifer” begins dangerous attacks on a world that’s hostile toward women.

Dietland takes a no holds barred approach to eviscerating the beauty industry, gender inequality, rape culture, society’s obsession with weight loss, and the general nastiness that surrounds being overweight.

You guys, I have so many complicated feelings about this book. Every time I wanted to high five the author for making an incredible point, something happened that made me want to rescind my hand. I was all about the take down of diet culture. It sucks and this book disembowled it. High five right there. Of course, I wanted that high five right back when I read the way the author treated Plum’s antidepressant use. Are anti-depressants over-prescribed? Maybe. But are there a lot of people who NEED medication to manage their mental illnesses? Abso-freaking-lutely. Is this sort of characterization helpful? Nope. Not even a little. Then there’s the beauty industry. Does it feed on women’s insecurities? Totally. But the book slammed the beauty industry SO HARD that it made me feel like a crap feminist for enjoying wearing makeup and shaving my armpits. And as much as there’s a part of me that would love to see rapists and other horrible human beings punished when the criminal justice system fails, I just can’t with the vigilante stuff.

Are you starting to get a clearer picture of why I’m such a muddled mess over this book? The cognitive dissonance is STRONG with this one. Even though I didn’t agree with every little stance, I still think that Dietland starts all sorts of incredible and important conversations. It would make a stellar book club pick, especially if debates are your group’s jam.

Alright Bookworms. As you can see I’m a hot steaming pile of emotions here. What was the last book you read that left your feelings all a roiling?

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18 Responses to “Dietland by Sarai Walker”

  1. Megan M.

    That does sound conflicting. I don’t think “feminism” should mean “shun everything stereotypically feminine” or “shun all beauty standards.” I never got into makeup when I was younger but now I really wish I had because I feel like I would look better (less tired, for sure) and feel better about myself if I wore some. And, when I was in my Psych classes, I used to be a real jerk about kids being on ADHD meds. But then I met my stepdaughter right around the time her parents were deciding to put her on them. And you know what? She really needed them, and they helped her. I would never judge about antidepressants – I could probably use some of those, too. LOL

    • Words For Worms

      Right? I’m not going to deny that the beauty industry is problematic, because duh. But I’ve always thought of feminism as having the CHOICE to do something. Like, if you want to fashion it up, have at it. If you want to go au natural, do your thing. I didn’t start wearing makeup regularly until my late 20s. I just wanted to try something different and as it happened, I liked the way I looked.

  2. Unruly Reader

    Yeah, whenever “Dietland” comes up, it seems like it creates conflicting emotions. Powerful stuff.

    Recently I was all in a tither about how the main character of Colm Toibin’s “Brooklyn” was going to resolve her issues. I was freaked out that she was gonna ruin her life. It bothered me a bit more than what seemed normal!

  3. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Yep, it’s the stuff I’ve heard about the antidepressants that makes me not want to read Dietland. I have just really had it with people’s ill-thought-out attacks on mental health meds. There’s critiques to be made, and I wish people would make them nuanced and informed, instead of being all “antidepressants are a crutch, they numb your brain, this and that.” I can do without my antidepressants. It would just require me to put forth preposterously more effort to accomplish the same exact things, and there are other things I’d rather use that energy on. Like hanging out with friends and writing stories and going on adventures.

    • Words For Worms

      Yessssssssssssss. I am 1000% with you. And I don’t get the numbing the brain thing. My brain isn’t numb. I still have a full range of feelings. But it’s no longer a massive effort to watch a kleenex commercial without crying.

  4. Katie Wilkins (@DoingDewey)

    From a lot of the reviews I’ve read, it seems like this book is a pretty extreme mix of things I could really get behind and things that would make me angry. It’s such a creative and interesting sounding book that I’m sure I want to pick it up and find out for myself anyway 🙂

    I also have to say I support being behind on reviewing books. I often wish I finished books more in advance of when I want to review them because I think it would make me feel more relaxed about blogging.

  5. Rory

    I have avoided this book because of some of the things mentioned in your review. I feel like there has to be some sort of middle, especially surrounding diet culture. Anyway… nicely done review, Katie!

  6. purplemoonmyst

    I have been wanting wanting to read this book. I am nots your
    e how I will react to the rape culture part of it. As an overweight person I feel that more people need to be explosive to dismantle the current reality but as a mentally ill person I would probably have the same visceral reaction as you did. I will have to read it and see.

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