Dietland

DIETLAND


An AMC Original Series

A Best Book of the Year
Entertainment Weekly • Bustle • Amazon • Women’s National Book Association • Kirkus Reviews • BookPage• Kobo • LitReactor 

The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed.

Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. With her job answering fan mail for a teen magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots begins following her,

more …

An AMC Original Series

A Best Book of the Year
Entertainment Weekly • Bustle • Amazon • Women’s National Book Association • Kirkus Reviews • BookPage• Kobo • LitReactor 

The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed.

Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. With her job answering fan mail for a teen magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots begins following her, Plum falls down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House — an underground community of women who reject society’s rules — and is forced to confront the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a guerilla group begins terrorizing a world that mistreats women, and Plum becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.

“A giddy revenge fantasy that will shake up your thinking and burrow under your skin” (Entertainment Weekly), Dietland takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight-loss obsession — with fists flying.

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  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Paperback
  • May 2016
  • 336 Pages
  • 9780544704831

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$15.99

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About Sarai Walker

Sarai WalkerSarai Walker worked as a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves. Her articles have appeared in national publications, including the New York Times. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Bennington College and her PhD in English from the University of London. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Author Website

Praise

“Fight Club meets Margaret Atwood in this absorbing thriller that weighs the expectations of society against one’s own self-worth.”—Bustle

If Amy Schumer turned her subversive feminist sketches into a novel, dark on the inside but coated with a glossy, palatable sheen, it would probably look a lot like Dietland—a thrilling, incendiary manifesto disguised as a beach read…It’s a giddy revenge fantasy that will shake up your thinking and burrow under your skin, no matter its size.”—Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A)

“Plum Kettle, a ghostwriter for a popular teen mag, is lured into a subversive sisterhood in this riotous first novel. Finally, the feminist murder mystery/makeover story we’ve been waiting for.”—O, The Oprah Magazine, One of “10 Titles to Pick Up Now”

“At 300 lbs., Plum Kettle lives for the days when gastric bypass will help her shed her extra girth—until she’s challenged to shed her misery instead. Witty and wise.”—People

Discussion Questions

1. Who is the “messenger from another world” (page 4) who seems to be following Plum at the start of the story? Plum says that the girl has come to “wake [her] from [her] sleep” (page 4). What does she mean by this? Would you say that the girl was successful?

2. Plum confesses that when she thinks of her life “back then” she “saw [herself] as an outline . . . waiting to be filled in” (page 5). What did she feel was lacking or missing in her life at that time? What does she believe will allow her to feel complete? Is she correct?

3. Plum responds to those who write to the advice column of a teen magazine. What kinds of questions do the girls ask? What do the people who write in seem to have in common? What kind of advice does Plum give them? What does Plum mean when she says that “people could be deleted, switched off” (page 10)? Does she maintain this point of view throughout the entire story? Why or why not?

4. Why does the girl who follows Plum write the word “Dietland” on Plum’s hand? What does Plum initially think this means? What does her response reveal about her character? Is she correct? What is Dietland?

5. When Plum and her mother are living at Aunt Delia’s house, people often stop to take photographs. What does Plum believe they are taking pictures of? What are these people actually taking pictures of? How does this detail tie in with the major themes of the novel?

6. What is Plum’s real name? How did she get her nickname, and what does she see as the difference between the two identities? How does this change over the course of the story? What other characters could be said to have—or have had—more than one identity? What does this indicate about identity and womanhood?

7. How does Plum’s mother respond to her daughter’s weight-loss efforts? Why do you think that she responds in this way? Do you agree with her reaction? What kinds of things does Plum try in her attempts to lose weight? Are any of the methods successful? What does Plum mean when she says that she was a Baptist?

8. What is Calliope House? Who runs it? Who lives there, and why do they live there? How did the house get its name? How does the history of the house tie in with the major themes of the novel? What purpose does the house ultimately seem to serve?

9. Who is dropped out of the plane? Who are the Dirty Dozen? What do the people who are murdered have in common? What would you say is the link among all of them? Are their murders shocking? Why or why not?

10. What is the New Baptist Plan? What steps does it include? How does it differ from the other plans she has tried? What results does the plan seem to have? Would you say that it is successful for Plum? Why or why not?

11. How does Marlowe meet or defy Plum’s initial expectations of what she will be like? What does Marlowe say was the best day of her life and why? What does Marlowe mean when she says that “Being a woman means being a faker” (page 145)? Do you agree with her point of view? Explain.

12. Why does Plum go underground at Calliope House? What does this entail? How does the experience ultimately affect Plum? Is she different after her reemergence? If so, how has she changed?

13. What does Plum identify as the major benefit of being fat? What is she able to do as a result of her weight that slimmer women cannot? How does this help her?

14. Why does Plum avoid using the word “fat” early in the novel (pages 88 and 105)? Is it significant that she starts using it proudly later on (pages 196–7)? Why is reclaiming this word important in Plum’s transformation?

15. How is Jennifer portrayed in the media, and how do people respond to these reports? What is the “Jennifer effect”? What role does the media seem to play in the way that Jennifer is portrayed and understood? Plum says that people “talked about what was happening as if it were a Western” (page 212). What does she mean by this? How does this tie in with the way that we relate to the media today?

16. How does Sana’s relationship to other young women influence or change Plum’s relationship to the young women who write to her for advice? What common trauma does Plum ultimately realize all of the women share? How is this trauma defined? Is there a way for this trauma to be avoided?

17. Who is Jennifer? Is Jennifer a single person or a group of people? What is Soledad’s relationship to Jennifer? Do you believe that Soledad’s actions and the actions of Jennifer are justifiable in some way? Discuss. What motivates the actions that Jennifer is responsible for?

18. What kinds of confrontations does Plum face as she undergoes her transformation? Who initiates these confrontations, and what causes them? How does Plum handle each one? Are these confrontations surprising? Could they have been avoided? If so, how?

19. Does Plum ultimately go through with the weight-loss surgery? Why or why not? Do you think that she made the right decision? Does she ultimately succeed in transforming herself in the way that she had hoped?

20. Why does Verena say that “Virginia Woolf once wrote that it’s more difficult to kill a phantom than a reality” (page 292)? What do you think she means by this? Do you agree?

Excerpt

RABBIT HOLE

1

It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be. She crept into the edges of my consciousness like something blurry coming into focus. She was an odd girl, tramping around in black boots with the laces undone, her legs covered in bright fruit-hued tights, like the colors in a roll of Life Savers. I didn’t know why she was following me. People stared at me wherever I went, but this was different. To the girl I was not an object of ridicule but a creature of interest. She would observe me and then write things in her red spiral-bound notebook.

The first time I noticed the girl in a conscious way was at the café. On most days I did my work there, sitting at a table in the back with my laptop, answering messages from teenage girls. Dear Kitty, I have stretch marks on my boobs, please help. There was never any end to the messages and I usually sat at my table for hours, sipping cups of coffee and peppermint tea as I gave out the advice I wasn’t qualified to give. For three years the café had been my world. I couldn’t face working at home, trapped in my apartment all day with nothing to distract me from the drumbeat of Dear Kitty,Dear Kitty, please help me.

One afternoon I looked up from a message I was typing and saw the girl sitting at a table nearby, restlessly tapping her lime green leg, her canvas bag slouched in the chair across from her. I realized that I’d seen her before. She’d been sitting on the stoop of my building that morning. She had long dark hair and I remembered how she turned to look at me. Our eyes met and it was this look that I would remember in the weeks and months to come, when her face was in the newspapers and on TV — the glance over the shoulder, the eyes peeking out from the thick black liner that framed them.

After I noticed her at the café that day, I began to see her in other places. When I emerged from my Waist Watchers meeting, the girl was across the street, leaning against a tree. At the supermarket I spotted her reading the nutrition label on a can of navy beans. I made my way around the cramped aisles of Key Food, down the canyons of colorful cardboard and tin, and the girl trailed me, tossing random things into her shopping basket (cinnamon, lighter fluid) whenever I turned to look at her.

I was used to being stared at, but that was by people who looked at me with disgust as I went about my business in the neighborhood. They didn’t study me closely, not like this girl did. I spent most of my time trying to blend in, which wasn’t easy, but with the girl following me it was like someone had pulled the covers off my bed, leaving me in my underpants, shivering and exposed.

Walking home one evening, I could sense that the girl was behind me, so I turned to face her. “Are you following me?”

She removed tiny white buds from her ears. “I’m sorry? I didn’t hear you.” I had never heard her speak before. I had expected a flimsy voice, but what I heard was a confident tone.

“Are you following me?” I asked again, not as bold as the first time.

“Am I following you?” The girl looked amused. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She brushed past me and continued on down the sidewalk, being careful not to trip on the tree roots that had burst through the concrete.

As I watched the girl walk away, I didn’t yet see her for who she was: a messenger from another world, come to wake me from my sleep.

2

When I think of my life at that time, back then, I imagine looking down on it as if it were contained in a box, like a diorama — there are the neighborhood streets and I am a figurine dressed in black. My daily activities kept me within a five-block radius and had done so for years: I moved between my apartment, the café, Waist Watchers. My life had narrow parameters, which is how I preferred it. I saw myself as an outline then, waiting to be filled in.

From the outside, to someone like the girl, I might have seemed sad, but I wasn’t. Each day I took thirty milligrams of the antidepressant Y ——. I had taken Y —— since my senior year of college. That year there had been a situation with a boy. In the weeks after the Christmas break I slipped into a dark spiral, spending most of my time in the library, pretending to study. The library was on the seventh floor and I stood at the window one afternoon and imagined jumping out of it and landing in the snow, where it wouldn’t hurt as much. A librarian saw me — later I found out I had been crying — and she called the campus doctor. Soon after that pharmaceuticals became inevitable. My mother flew to Vermont. She and Dr. Willoughby (an old gray man, with gray hair, tinted glasses, a discolored front tooth) decided it was best for me to see a therapist and take Y ——. The medication took away my sadness and replaced it with something else — not happiness, but more like a low dull hum, a weak radio frequency of feeling that couldn’t be turned up or down.

Long after college ended, and the therapy ended, and I’d moved to New York, I continued to take Y ——. I lived in an apartment on Swann Street in Brooklyn, on the second floor of a brownstone. It was a long and skinny place that stretched from the front of the building to the back, with polished blond floorboards and a bay window that overlooked the street at the front. Such an apartment, on a coveted block, was beyond my means, but my mother’s cousin Jeremy owned it and reduced the rent for me. He would have let me live there rent-free if my mother hadn’t nosed in and demanded I pay something, but what I paid was a small amount. Jeremy worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. After his wife died he was desperate to leave New York and especially Brooklyn, the borough of his unhappiness. His bosses sent him to Buenos Aires, then Cairo. There were two bedrooms in the apartment and one of them was filled with his things, but it didn’t seem as if he would ever come back for them.

There were few visitors to the apartment on Swann Street. My mother came to see me once a year. My friend Carmen visited sometimes, but I mostly saw her at the café. In my real life I would have more friends, and dinner parties and overnight guests, but my life wasn’t real yet.