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Review: DIETLAND, by Sarai Walker

Dietland, by Sarai Walker

A revolution is brewing . . .

Plum Kettle, whose "real" name is Alicia (the reason for those quote marks becomes apparent in later chapters of the novel), wants to be thin. Oh, how she wants to be thin! But she weighs 300 pounds, and shedding any of that weight seems to be impossible, so she does the next-best thing: she does her best not to be noticed, because when you're fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse.

But she has a plan: bariatric surgery, which would leave her unable to eat anything larger than a walnut.

Then Plum notices that she's being followed by a mysterious woman in tights as colorful as Lifesaver candies, wearing combat boots. And so begins her fall down a rabbit-hole of strangeness into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms, not on those of men, fashion designers, porn-makers, and all the others who work to keep women terrorized into behaving like objects, suppressing their own needs in order to please others.

Having joined the women of Calliope House, reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to experience a series of challenges her to face the real costs of becoming "beautiful." At the same time, however, a dangerous guerilla group apparently led by someone named Jennifer -- about the most generic name for a girl or woman you could find in America -- begins to terrorize a world that abuses women. Two bags, each containing a man, are dropped from the Harbor Freeway Interchange, the tallest in Southern California; the bodies fell all the way down to the Century Freeway. The authorities later said that the drop should have killed the men, all by itself; the countless cars, trucks, and other vehicles that ran over the bags before they were found and removed from the freeway were just icing on the cake. It turned out that the two men were among those who had raped and murdered United States Army private Shonda Brown, scraping and burning her hands, making deep bruises all over her body, and burning her genitals with bleach. After a cursory exam, Army doctors had ruled that Shonda had "committed suicide," like other servicewomen who had "committed suicide" in Iraq by highly improbable means, such as multiple fatal gunshot wounds (at least one of which was in the back of the head), or being run over by a truck.

Then there were the twelve men, each of whom was guilty of crimes against women and even children but never punished for it, who disappeared and then, days later, were pitched out of a skydiving plane without parachutes at an altitude of at least 10,000 feet onto the floor of the Nevada desert below. After many such incidents, the public was in a panic, and authorities were frantic to find and arrest the terrorists who had done this, above all their ostensible leader, Jennifer.

Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland is a bold, original, and often hilarious story that slams the beauty industry, gender inequality, and the American weight-loss obsession from the inside-out in a battle to the finish that takes no prisoners.

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