*This review may contain spoilers*
The novel, written by Sarai Walker, follows Plum Kettle, a fat woman who is drifting through life, unhappy, waiting until she can amputate her stomach and finally start living.
Plum is a ghostwriter, answering reader mail for the editor of a major teen magazine called Daisy Chain. She works remotely, in a coffee shop, because the thin, glossy people of Austen Media don’t want her in the office.
At the beginning of the book, Plum is miserable, floating through life. She buys clothes in small sizes for after she has weight-loss surgery, but does nothing to care for her current self. Everything she eats is a number, a transaction, with no joy. She keeps her head down and internalizes it when people mock her or stare.
Sound familiar? If you’re a fat woman, you’ve probably spent at least some amount of time in this mode. Self-loathing, thinking you can’t really LIVE until you’re thinner, the whole thing. Sadly, many never escape this trap.
But Plum eventually does. She first notices a weird, pixie-like young woman following her — at the café, on the street, everywhere she goes. At one point the woman writes the word “dietland” on Plum’s arm, saying nothing. This is more or less the point where things begin to turn around for our protagonist.
Plum meets Verena Baptist, who inherited and then shut down the weight-loss company founded by her mother. She’s a therapist, and agrees to work with Plum, who needs someone to sign off so she can receive her surgery. But Verena has other plans. She sets up a series of tasks and events that finally start to get Plum off the hamster wheel of fatty pain that she’s been on her whole life. Eventually, she ends up living at Calliope House, Verena’s feminist collective, confronting fatphobes, and starting a new chapter of her life where she no longer feels the need to change her exterior.
While this is happening in Plum’s life, elsewhere, terrible men are being murdered. Their bodies all bear a calling card — a slip of paper with “Jennifer” written on them. Turns out that this is a feminist vigilante group taking their revenge out on men who really deserve it. Rapists, murderers, abusers, etc, are getting their just desserts.
But is Dietland any good?
While this book has weirdly low ratings on Goodreads, it’s actually outstanding. It’s a true revenge fantasy for the fat feminist world. Plum is a rare gift in a protagonist. All too often fat characters don’t get a happy ending until they lose weight, but she’s the opposite. She starts out hating herself and wanting to be thinner, but ends up happy and fat. That almost never happens.
My one critique is that the story could use a little more nuance when dealing with issues of sex and porn. There are definitely valid reasons to criticize mainstream porn, with its impossible beauty standards and laser focus on male pleasure, but the story doesn’t make the distinction between that and the feminist versions out there.
However, overall this book is incredible. It’s a revenge fantasy in multiple ways. Seeing Jennifer take out misogynist scum is incredibly therapeutic. Plus we get to see Plum turn into the raddest of rad fatties.
I sincerely hope the TV show can live up to its source material.