*I requested this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Once upon a time, when a young picky girl was working on her graduate degree, she immersed herself in feminist theory and literature – as any good twenty-something English graduate student should. She wrote of women who killed – specifically, women who killed their children, and why and how literature treats them afterward.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman played quite a role in that young woman’s thesis, but Herland was one of the texts that stuck out in her mind, though it wasn’t all that good. What an odd concept – a world without men.
When I picked up Dietland, that much older novel didn’t register. I anticipated a funny, wry look at society and the emphasis we place on weight, particularly women’s weight. Women’s space – how much we take up of it and how much we may lay claim to – is a fascinating conversation. Plum Kettle understands that deeply. At 300 pounds, Plum has lived her entire life completely aware of her size. Others make sure she knows just how large she is.
But Plum has a secret. Working from home for a teen girls’ magazine and stockpiling clothes many sizes too small for her, Plum is waiting for the day she will go under the knife and be able to drop pounds upon pounds and become who she was intended to be.
Except that a mysterious woman seems to be following her. When the woman slips her a copy of a book written about the lie of a particular weight loss program she endured as a young woman, Plum’s life is altered.
At the same time, men around the world are being threatened, hunted, and killed for any number of offenses – rape, institutional sexism, porn (the creation of it, specifically).
Only when she encounters an enclave of women who extract from her a promise to follow a series of steps prior to her surgery does Plum understand what it means to “come into her own.”
Whereas Herland is an exploration of a world without men and what happens when men tread on such a space, Dietland is a harsh, in-your-face look at our society and the ugliness of a world where women’s bodies are public.
Dietland is not an enjoyable book. I’ve read some reviews that describe it as “funny,” but frankly, that’s not a word I would use to describe it. The guerrilla group “Jennifer” methodically threatens, maims, and/or kills those who perpetrate crimes against women as well as those who support or fund such crimes. That’s not a feminism I’m at all familiar with, and it’s certainly not something I support.
Dietland is fiction, yes. I also understand that describing our society’s ills in such gross excess and punishing it accordingly may make some sort of point, but again, it’s not at all comforting/comfortable to read.
You may argue that is exactly the point, and I know it is. Dietland, in many ways, seemed a response to Herland – a look at what happens if men are allowed to infiltrate and influence a society of women, a cautionary tale at best; a horror story at worst.
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