By Sarai Walker. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 307 pages, $26.)
“Dietland” is an entertaining comic book of a novel, a feminist fairy tale about women taking back their lives, their body images, their safety and their happiness from a big, bad sexist society. The book is not strident, though, but fun.
The story line revolves around a young woman named Plum, eternal dieter, fat and getting fatter (although she prefers “curvy” or “zaftig”), who, on her way to stomach-stapling surgery, gets drawn into a commune, a place where women can live life on their own terms, unbothered by society’s rules of beauty and behavior.
Stomach surgery gets put on hold as Plum learns to love herself the way she is.
At the same time, an underground movement called Jennifer begins taking the feminist philosophy to an extreme. Jennifer’s goal is broad and vague, and her (its? their?) methods are brutal — kidnapping, castration, scalping, murder. Jennifer wants revenge for rapes and bullying. She wants to get rid of sexism in advertising and the world of fashion. She wants to replace the naked Page 3 girls in the newspaper with naked Page 3 men.
The story gets preposterously, almost goofily violent, like any good comic book, but author Sarai Walker is careful to put the gory deeds in the hands of peripheral characters who really, really, really have airtight reasons to do them. Plum and her friends remain blissfully pure.
“Dietland” is a fun read, and cathartic, as a revenge fantasy can be. It’s best enjoyed with a big ice cream sundae — not just an indulgence; in the context of this book, it’s a duty.
By Richard Zoglin. (Simon & Schuster, 565 pages, $30.)
This is likely the most thorough examination of Bob Hope, arguably the most successful comedian of the 20th century. Yet it’s often as dry as one of the comic’s mid-’80s monologues, when he strained to read the cue cards and looked as though he’d rather be out on the golf course.
That’s not entirely Richard Zoglin’s fault. The well-respected journalist just doesn’t have that much to work with. Hope, by most accounts, was not that colorful offstage, dedicating himself to building his career rather than hitting the party circuit. There’s some interesting glimpses into his love-hate relationship with Bing Crosby, but nothing that would pique the National Enquirer’s interests.
Zoglin dedicates much of the book to Hope’s contributions to the USO, when he consistently put himself in harm’s way to entertain the troops. Was it out of patriotism or self-glory? Zoglin does the diplomatic job of suggesting both.
For a certain generation, Hope was a hack who overstayed his welcome, but Zoglin tirelessly makes the case for Hope as a groundbreaker, nicely dissecting his early films and encouraging readers to take a look at some early gems.
Hope may not be the most fascinating subject, but he’s an important one, and Zoglin gives him his proper due.