“Women tend to be conservative in youth and get more radical as they get older because they lose power with age. So if a young woman is not a feminist, I say, ‘Just wait.’” ~ Gloria Steinem
I’m not generally interested in contemporary fiction. I don’t comb the best seller lists for my next read. I prefer classic books, or books that are on the “back list”, which means they’ve been around a while but they are well worth my time to read. So, picking up Dietland by Sarai Walker was unusual for me. Okay, technically Dietland is a back listed book. The hardback came out in 2015, but it has come into the public consciousness again because it is now a summer series on AMC.
I didn’t pay attention to the first trailers for the series. It looked like a women’s revenge show and I wasn’t interested in lots of violence. However, one trailer caught my eye. It was centered on Plum Kettle, a young “fat” woman who works, interestingly enough, as a ghost writer at a fashion magazine. Barry and I decided to take a chance on it. I was hooked from the first episode so much so, that I decided I had to read the book.
Though I haven’t finished watching the series, I have finished reading the book. The two mediums diverge a bit, but I like that the TV show allows us to see women in different roles, with different attitudes and approaches to slogging through a male dominated society.
Both versions of the story center around Plum (Alicia) Kettle, who works for Kitty Montgomery, editor of a teen magazine for girls called Daisy Chain. Kitty is much too busy running the magazine to answer her own emails, so she hires Plum to ghost write her responses. But, of course, Plum does not fit the image of the women that litter the pages and offices of the magazine, so she works from home. She and Kitty meet once a month so Kitty can keep her finger on the pulse of her readers. I love those scenes. They show just how shallow Kitty is. Plum barely gets a word in edgewise, and, of course she has to endure Kitty’s condescension. Kitty is not someone you want to mess with. The book doesn’t concentrate on Kitty much. But the series capitalizes on the difference between Kitty and Plum, which I find appealing.
Plum has struggled with her weight and her self-image all her life. She’s dieted once with a Jenny Craig kind of meal plan. With this plan, she eats the “food” they send her, but she’s saved from future health issues when Eulayla Baptist, the owner, dies in a car crash That’s when she joins Waist Watchers. Though she must count calories, at least on that plan she’s eating real food.
Shortly after the book and series begin, Plum meets Verena Baptist, daughter of Eulayla who started The Baptist Plan, that Plum was sucked into. Verena is on a mission to help women, especially those harmed by her mother, find self-empowerment.
In another storyline, men are being pushed off freeway overpasses, off buildings and out of airplanes. These men are all sex offenders. The first of these men has a piece of paper stuffed in his mouth with the name “Jennifer” on it. It is determined that Jennifer is a group of “terrorist” women. They are taking revenge on men who got away with harassment and rape. Plum is minimally connected to this group through a strange young woman named Leeta, who is also the one who sends Plum on her journey toward self-love and empowerment.
This is a woman’s book. It shows the struggles that all women go through as they try to make their place in this male dominated world. For example, Plum hates to go outside because when she does she’s confronted by nasty looks, harassment, and judgmental comments from all kinds of people. Kitty goes on a funny, and sad rant that describes her fears of losing her position as she ages. The Jennifer women have had enough of men getting away with raping and abusing women. Though I don’t believe violence solves problems, I thought the book did a fantastic job of helping the reader understand why they chose the course of action they did. And I have to admit, it was satisfying to see male characters cower at the prospect of being treated the way they treat women.
But my favorite part of the story has to do with Verena Baptist and the other women who work together at Calliope House. They have already faced their demons and help other women, particularly Plum, find their power too. They are the ones who espouse the main message of the book, which is: To change the world, you have to love yourself first.
To me, Dietland is a feminist manifesto. Watch out men! Women are on to your games and tricks and we’re not going to play anymore. That’s a bandwagon I can wholeheartedly jump on.
Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it very much. Have an empowering weekend.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018
Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.