Tag Archives: violence

Reading: Dietland by Sarai Walker

27th July 2015

dietland*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.

Add this to your Goodreads list.

Review: What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George

6th August 2010

It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone here that I am extremely picky about audiobook narrators. I can’t even remember which book it was now, but a couple weeks ago, I turned one on, and within five minutes, I punched the eject button. The woman was an overachiever when it came to character intonations: her “kid” voice was so grating, I couldn’t stand it a second longer. Charles Keating, on the other hand, is superb. Let me just get that out of the way; he is perfection. I’m already on another audiobook narrated by him, and it is fabulous as well.

What Came Before He Shot Her is written by Elizabeth George. Mystery readers may recognize her name, but do not be fooled: This novel is no mystery. Mysteries do not divulge what happens in the title. Mysteries do not (typically) focus on the perpetrator of the crime. Instead, this book is a sociological, psychological exploration of a cast of characters I won’t soon forget.

The book opens with three children of mixed race – Ness, Joel, and Toby – being shuffled off to the stoop of their Auntie Kendra’s house in South Kensington, London. Their Gran is going back to Jamaica with her boyfriend, George, and the children are not part of the picture. Ness is a teenager, angry and bitter; Joel is kind and compassionate and ever-watchful of his brother; Toby has developmental problems and is totally devoted to his older brother. The three have been shuffled around since the murder of their father, who was shot in the street, and the institutionalization of their mother. Kendra comes home to find the boys waiting for her; Ness has already run off looking for drugs. What follows is a tale so wrenching, I felt my chest tighten at several points throughout the book.

While Kendra deals with this sudden alteration to her life, Ness finds a dealer, Blade, and offers herself to him in exchange for a steady supply of drugs. Naive and foolish, Ness doesn’t understand the full extent of Blade’s enterprise or power. When she finds out Blade has other girlfriends, there is an ugly brawl – and Blade is shown up by Kendra’s boyfriend Dix.

Joel is on the straight and narrow. He knows how best to mollify Toby and watches out for him constantly. A gang of boys, on the lookout for the newbie – the one with the weird brother – quickly target Joel and Toby. Neal Wyatt and his gang are out to get them, and no amount of “sorting” will deter Neal’s determination to get to Toby and through Toby, Joel. As the pranks become more and more deadly, Joel knows what he has to do in order to save his small, patched-together family.

Watching, or rather, listening to this story filled me with dread. I knew exactly what would happen. I knew Blade would not live and let live after being shown up. I knew Joel would go to him for help, and I knew Joel was innocent enough to believe the Blade would help. The buildup was excruciating, but the interplay between the characters hooked me. It is horrific on many levels, no less so because of the outside forces trying to do good but failing miserably. These children don’t live in the type of world where poetry and art can lift them above violence. Adults don’t always equal safety, and sometimes your worst enemy is the only symbol of safety.