I love fat books and I cannot lie: Dietland (review)

Diet Land
Sarai Walker
Mariner

There may not be a woman in the Western world who hasn’t, at one time or another, had an issue with her weight. I know I have. For years I was too skinny. Then just right. Finally got a little-meat-on-my-bones okay. Putting-on-some pounds-better-watch-it. Downright overweight. Plenty has been written about The Struggle.

In her first novel, Dietland, writer Sarai Walker dives head first into empowerment and body image. (For women, that is. Do men even think twice this stuff?) Before I get too far into writing about Dietland, let me say it’s not for everyone. Walker’s characters curse plenty and slang is used instead of proper anatomical terms. There are descriptions of porn and a little self-pleasuring goes on. There’s also some pretty graphic descriptions of men who have been kidnapped and murdered. So this is where you decide whether or not to bail or read on. But unfiltered though it may be, Dietland covers some important territory.

Plum Kettle has tried it all since she was sixteen. Waist Watchers.  A famous diet of frozen meals and pills supplemented with meetings of evangelical proportion, called the Baptist Plan after founder Euylayla Baptist. Nothing has worked. Now pushing thirty, Plum is awaiting bariatric surgery. She’s apprehensive, but after a life of dieting, willing to take the risk. Plum works from home answering emails for a ‘tween beauty magazine Daisy Chain, spending hours a day responding to girls’ questions about cutting, small breasts, creepy stepbrothers, and more. When editor Kitty Montgomery calls her into the office one morning, Plum falls into a rabbit hole of revolutionary feminists whose goal is to bring the system down. Some of the revolutionaries are social justice workers with a positive, albeit radical, outlook–and others, not so much. (Which is where the kidnapping, murder, and dismembering–usually with the emphasis on “member”–of those men comes into play.)

Plum’s first awakening is to let go of her obsession with food–instigated by an offer of $20,000 if she follows a transformative “diet” plan suggested by Verena Baptist, daughter of the late weight loss guru. Plum finds community at a women’s cooperative. She sleeps (and eats) a lot. She develops a fashion style. Plum, like so many women who finally come to terms with their bodies, recognizes she needs to change from the inside out.

Walker alternates the stories of the characters’ present with their past–and we discover that even the women who resort to violence are driven by our culture’s misogynist response to them. Dietland is a difficult book to read in many ways–one that tells the truth, but tells is slant, as Miss Emily Dickinson would say.

If you’d like to pair your reading of Walker’s fiction with a good memoir, be sure to read Half-Assed by Jennette Fulda. Plum and her feminist band would love Fulda’s honesty, wit, and sass–I know I did.

So there you have it. Feminism and weight loss are not mutually exclusive. I know–because when my own weight loss was an inside job it was empowering, not repressive.

You’ll look sweet upon the seat: Hello, Bicycle (review)

Hello Bicycle (Blogging For Books)
Anna Brones
Ten Speed Press

Six years ago I treated myself to a new bicycle. I read reviews, talked with biking friends, browsed online, and finally went to a local bike shop to make my purchase. It was the Real Deal: a shiny black and chrome city bike. I was in love. Twice a week I rode two miles to the Farmer’s Market, packed up my saddle baskets with goodies, and pedaled back home.  I biked to the library. To neighborhood association meetings. And sometimes up to a nearby technical high school just to delight in the winding roads of their campus.

This little gem by Anna Brones, Hello, Bicycle: an inspired guide to the two-wheeled life, makes me long for those lazy summer days when I can get pedaling once again. The book definitely isn’t for the snooty serious rider–those spandexed, be-numbered riders with calves of steel who hunch over handlebars like it’s the Tour de France. Rather, it’s for the rider who might still be a bit daunted riding in traffic and is just getting used to having helmet hair. Hello, Bicycle is like sitting down with a chatty friend who has a few good tips to share. You know, the kind of friend whose enthusiasm is so catching you can’t resist joining their latest adventure.

There are tips I’d put in the everyday advice column: wear a helmet, pack a rain jacket, use bike lanes. And then Brones turns into that chatty friend I mentioned. She oh-so-casually-like-it’s-no-big-deal writes about touring and slow rolls and S240s. Before you know it, I have the Peterson’s Official S240 Packing List” asterisked, as well as arrows drawn on the page “Pantry and Kitchen Essentials for Cyclists.” Who do I think I am?! My longest ride has been all of five miles. But that’s just it–Brones makes it seem doable for even the novice cyclist. Add James Gulliver Hancock’s cute illustrations and catchy graphics, and Hello, Bicycle is both a how-to manual and an inspirational all-in-one. (The photos on this post are from the illustrators website.)

In my own Great Lake state, we’ve put winter behind us. The robins arrived a few weeks ago, and days have lengthened. The snow is long gone (we hope!) and the littlest bit of sunshine has us swapping out our down jackets for windbreakers. I’ve a mind to take my bike out of winter storage this weekend. Hello, Bicycle would be the perfect gift for Someone Special who is thinking about getting back in the saddle seat or who has that new bicycle and is ready to roll.

Flash Fiction Friday

Elle leaned against the fender of the Plymouth watching fireflies blink over the field across the highway. She had pulled onto the shoulder over an hour ago with a flat tire; it was nearly nine, but the air was still close. Her tank top stuck to her back where it had been pressed against the vinyl seat. She pulled her hair into a pony and rolled her neck.

Doug Kerr @ Flickr.com

Forty-five minutes to home and now she’d be later still. Sighing, she kicked a gravel from her flip flop and shifted onto her hip. A tow truck slowed on the other side of the median and pulled into the emergency turn-around. She waved and he flicked on his flashers. As the driver pulled up behind her, she straightened. Smoothed her hair for whatever reason. Wiped sweaty palms on her skirt.

“You gotta spare?” he asked. The name stitched on his pocket said Wayne. She’d called for a tow, knowing the spare was circa 2000, same as the car, and probably shot to hell.

“Cheaper to fix it than have to drive you to the station and wait until we find a new one.”

“Well try then, I guess.”

Fifteen minutes later she was on the road again, Wayne following her as he’d promise.

“You’re right. She’s a bugger,” he’d admitted. “I’ll follow as long as I can back towards town in case this one blows.”

Two exits before her own, Wayne flashed his lights. She saw him wave as he pulled off the exit, so she gave her horn a couple sharp “thank yous” and hoped he heard. Most of the time she used a fictional husband to keep mechanics (and electricians and plumbers) honest. But Wayne’s quiet smile and the careful way he made his way over made her drop her guard from the first.

“I don’t get it,” she had told him while he worked. “This is the second flat I’ve had in the past month.”

“Probably potholes,” Wayne said.

“Shouldn’t be–I drive to work the same way every day.”

“Well, then, maybe you need to take a different road.”


[The flash fiction “The  Spare”, 2016 draft, appeared first on This Is My Symphony.]

Flash Fiction Friday

Green is my heartThe rug was rolled and pushed with the bed up against the far wall. A chest of drawers sat catty-corner the door,  drawers emptied. She hadn’t painted a room since they tried to sell the house after the kids left for school, so she poured the paint into the tray with a too-quick slosh. Dipping the roller she started laying on wide swaths.
The latex stung her nose and made her eyes water. She reached and stretched and bent and dipped. The gray walls disappeared more quickly–and easily–than she had imagined.
“Prickly pear” the paint chip said. She hadn’t bothered with any other paint swatches once she read the name. Just the shade for a fresh start.
A roll up for all the times he’d slept at the office.
Down again for the nasty voice mails.
Another roll for bottles stashed behind the nightstand.
Back again for the smell of Listerine.
“Prickly pear” they called it. Prickly for her heart. Pears–unripe and bitter–for the leaving. And the paint fumes made her eyes tear again, just a little.

[The flash fiction “Green is my heart”, 2017 draft, appeared first on This Is My Symphony.]

My Big Magic

big magicA few years ago I was cleaning out my file drawers. I use “file” here loosely because the drawers are an odd collection of miscellaneous ephemera: ticket stubs, campground maps, prayer cards, receipts ($12.97 at Meijer, and I saved this?!), and unopened mortgage offers. I’d just slogged my way through some serious upheaval and organizing is my go-to ritual. If I can’t put my life to rights, I can certainly put my papers in order.

At the bottom of one of the drawers I found a folder with a few stories I had written nearly thirty years ago. In another life I’d have been a writer, but I pursued a more practical path instead. I had kids to feed, a mortgage to pay, and ain’t nobody got time for make believe. Part of the fallout of these last hard years was that I had to put off retirement and pay the bills. I was the breadwinner once again–but a heartsick and weary one.

The stories reminded me of what could have been, I was mired in the misery (self-inflicted, mind you) of the wouldas and the shouldas, and I just wanted to forget the dreams. I flipped through the typed pages. Wondered if they should stay or go. And threw them in the trash.

As I did, I remember having some strange sense that those stories could never really be trashed. “They’re out in the universe somewhere–living on in some other dimension. I only set them free.” Maybe I’d done enough to just write them; maybe keeping them wasn’t the point.

So imagine my surprise when I read Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic last weekend and she confirmed my intuition. Ideas, says Gilbert, are “an energetic life form … ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will.” Ideas will tap us on the shoulder, knock impatiently on our hearts–waiting, waiting for us to give them welcome. Whenever we create (whether it’s story or quilting or painting or dancing) we embody those ideas and they come to make their home with us.

Now am I sorry I tossed those poor stories out? Of course. I think they know that I did so from a very sad place. But I also think they forgive me. Their brothers and sisters–story sprites!–come sit next to me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

And we are all of us happy to be alive.