FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Miss Lonelyparts

Several stories run wild in Sarai Walker’s madcap Dietland, each one threatening to blow up her entire narrative. My favorite makes me confess that I have little hope for America’s judicial system. This is certainly true in regards to the illusive feminist character, called Jennifer, who takes things into her own hands after she sees the way the courts treat rapists, i.e., doing nothing. This is what happens to twelve rapists of women who evaded any punishment, after they are mysteriously kidnapped:

“A week later a skydiving plane went missing from an airfield in Nevada. The twelve men were dropped from the plane into the desert. The coroner estimated that the men, alive and without parachutes, fell from an altitude of at least 10,000 feet. By the time anyone noticed the plane had been stolen, it had crashed into the Sierra Nevada and animals were feasting on the men’s remains. There were no bodies in the plane. Investigators surmised that the killers had parachuted out of it before the crash.” Officials are furious at the blatant example of revenge but, still, care little about the reason the men were kidnapped.

The “Jennifer” plot becomes an on-going concern of the media as every attempt is made to figure out who this woman or women are. A “lady terrorist group”? Ah, c’mon, women love being abused by men—they just don’t want to admit it. Thus, a secondary focus of Dietland is a hardline feminist approach to the dietlandtreatment of women—in all contexts—by men, or, as you might say, by men behaving badly. The details of the response are called “The Jennifer Effect.” Issues are exasperated when “the editors at The Lost Angeles Times received something new: a letter containing a ‘Penis Blacklist,’ signed by Jennifer.” “The Penis Blacklist comprised the name of one hundred men, whose penises, the letter said, ‘must not be given shelter inside any woman.’ The editors didn’t know if it was legitimate or a hoax, but they published the list of names anyway. Anything Jennifer related was big news.”

What fun. You will be laughing out loud when you read this novel, or perhaps holding your groin.

So we’ve got a “Dirty Dozen” story unfolding—especially its ramifications on women, as it morphs into a feminist manifesto masked as a novel. Combined, it’s a bit of a jumble of rhetoric from earlier feminists in the 1970s and 80s, plus the more current response by women who have given up on any change unless they do something radical. And then we’ve got the central story of Dietland, an account of a heavily overweight young woman known as Plum or Alicia Kettle and her attempts to come to terms with her body. This is actually the core of the story and often a totally sympathetic narrative not so much of how overweight people live in our society but the painful way they are often treaded. (To borrow a line from another novel, “You’re too fat to fuck.”)

Plum, who is still young (in her early twenties), works for a huge media corporation, referred to as the Austen Corporation, but it’s obviously Condé Nast. One of its publications is a teenage magazine, called Daisy Chain, and Plum works remotely, away from the company’s headquarters in mid-Manhattan, responding to the questions that young women send to Kitty Montgomery, the editor of the magazine. So it’s a Miss Lonelyhearts kind of position that Plum has, responding to the emails of troubled young girls. (The emails are often included in the text and they are quite funny but also sad.)

Plum has been saving her money for a stomach by-pass operation that will drastically reduce her weight. We learn that earlier in her life, like many others, she tried numerous diets but none were particularly effective. The one that she tried for the longest was “Waist Watchers,” which she followed for years, eating their prepared meals. The up-coming operation is supposed to make her stomach “the size of a walnut,” help her lose ten to twenty pounds a month, and in time lose two hundred pounds. Plum has already begun shopping for clothing to wear after she has slimmed down. Her self-deprecating remarks are frightful, such as “I’m every American woman’s worst nightmare.” Or, “I can’t imagine anyone loving me while I look like this.”

Then her plans bust up. She meets Verena Baptist, the daughter of the man who started the Baptist Weight Loss Foundation, who has vilified her father’s business, but, also, inherited his vast wealth. Verena has dedicated her life to helping young women who are overweight and/or those with other image problems (largely created by men) to learn to accept their situations and become comfortable with their bodies. She’s opened a commune for women in a building she owns, and that institution—if you want to call it that—supports the work of other feminists, one who has published a scholarly book called Fuckability Theory, another disparaging example of the contortions that women need to undergo in order to make themselves attractive to men.

Yes, the entire book is a bit of a mish-mash, with several other threads running through it besides the ones I have mentioned. But Dietland is also a scathing commentary on the superficiality of American culture. It’s not as simple as “fat is beautiful” the way “black is beautiful” emerged a number of decades ago, but it’s close to it. And Plum/Alicia is a memorable character, slowly learning how to live with herself.

Sarai Walker: Dietland

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 310 pp., $26

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 24, 2019
Susan Babbitt
Disdain and Dignity: An Old (Anti-Imperialist) Story
Adam Jonas Horowitz
Letter to the Emperor
Lawrence Davidson
A Decisive Struggle For Our Future
John Steppling
The Mandate for Israel: Keep the Arabs Down
Victor Grossman
Many Feet
Cira Pascual Marquina
The Commune is the Supreme Expression of Participatory Democracy: a Conversation with Anacaona Marin of El Panal Commune
Binoy Kampmark
Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar Moves on Tripoli
Dean Baker
Payments to Hospitals Aren’t Going to Hospital Buildings
Alvaro Huerta
Top Ten List in Defense of MEChA
Colin Todhunter
As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?
Charlie Gers
Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban is un-American and Inhumane
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Just Another Spring in Progress?
Thomas Knapp
On Obstruction, the Mueller Report is Clintonesque
Elliot Sperber
Every Truck’s a Garbage Truck
April 23, 2019
Peter Bolton
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
Kerron Ó Luain
What the “White Irish Slaves” Meme Tells Us About Identity Politics
Andy Piascik
Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational
Seiji Yamada – Gregory G. Maskarinec
Health as a Human Right: No Migrants Need Apply
Howard Lisnoff
Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Dreaming in Miami
Graham Peebles
Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion
Robert Dodge
Earth Day: Our Planet in Peril
Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail