Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: The Divorce Diet by Ellen Hawley

I still carry baby weight from all three of my babies. Too bad they are 17, 16 and 12 years old respectively. That means it's probably not legitimate to call it baby weight anymore but that doesn't mean I don't still have hopes of it coming off, eventually. Abigail, the main character in Ellen Hawley's novel, The Divorce Diet, really can call her excess weight baby weight, and while losing the 170 pounds of lying, cheating husband is not what she had in mind when she decided to lose the weight, it is in fact what happens.

Abigail is going to start a diet to finally lose the weight she is still carrying from her pregnancy with 7 months old Rosie. She's certain this will help bring some action back into her marriage. As she cooks an amazing dinner and a decadent cake for husband Thad's birthday, she delves into her new diet book for the first time, making an alternate, plasticky meal for herself. But when Thad comes home late and only picks at the food, it is clear that something is wrong. Apparently the whole marriage thing isn't working for him and he wants out. Abigail is completely gutted. Without Thad and her marriage, she is penniless and doesn't know who she is so she takes baby Rosie, the shining sun in her world, and moves back home to her parents' house.

Unwilling to give up the diet, ahem "lifestyle plan," she's started because she doesn't want the diet to have been for Thad, she continues consulting the book and even having long conversations and discussions with the invisible diet guru she imagines to have written it. This guru keeps feeding her advice to make her the best, new, thin Abigail she can be while Abigail complains about the ghastly meals and the woe-filled life she's inadvertently come to inhabit. Before she met Thad, Abigail had worked at a gourmet kitchen store and hosted underground dinners to showcase her culinary skills. With Thad, she used only the finest ingredients and tinkered with gourmet recipes. After Thad, at her parents' house, she is faced with frozen meals and bland, flavorless, processed foods while she does the only work she can find, and even that she isn't even qualified for: being a waitress at a chain restaurant. She sees her life having taken the same disheartening trajectory and spends a lot of time wallowing in her unhappiness and vowing to change. It's only when she really examines her past life objectively and sees it for what it was rather than for what she thought it was, that she can move towards becoming the person she wants to be and to find happiness again.

This is very much a novel of reinvention. Abigail is forced to make a change she doesn't see coming nor which she wants but in weathering it, she becomes a much stronger woman. In fact, she moves from being a whiny teenager type to being a fulfilled woman in charge of her own life and directing her own destiny. Her character starts the book off with little to no self-esteem, finding her self-worth in her husband and the upwardly mobile life that they lead. Once he shatters this world for her and moves his girlfriend into Abigail's very bed, she must learn to rely on herself and to be capable on her own. Although living with her parents allows her to regress, it also gives her a bit of breathing room and a safe place in which to tentatively learn independence and self-sufficiency.

Most chapters cover one day in Abigail's life following Thad's dismissal of their marriage and are set up in a sort of diary format. Abigail records her food intake and her daily exercise as well as mocking the largely inedible recipes offered up by her diet book. Her tone is snarky and the exercise entries, in particular, are fairly entertaining. She is clearly depressed though as there is a flavoring of guilt threaded throughout the entries as well, such as when she eats half a tasteless Pop Tart and discards the other half on her passenger seat day after day after day or when she separates the clothes scattered across her floor into clean on one side and dirty on the other, unmotivated to pick them up, wash the dirties, and hang up the clean. In fact, Abigail is just treading water for much of the novel, barely keeping her head above water emotionally. She's helped in the latter by arguing with her invisible guru and by the wonderful babysitter, Dell, she finds to watch Rosie for her and who selflessly provides Abigail with a sympathetic ear and sometimes even some gentle advice every day after work.

The diary entry format of the novel is a bit choppy and can be repetitive although sometimes that repetition is intentional to highlight the joyless drudgery of Abigail's life. Abigail, as a character, is incredibly immature and na├»ve for a twenty-five year old woman.  Seeing the other characters only through her eyes makes them rather one dimensional. Thad is a jerk all the way around and her parents, while allowing her to move home without much conversation, are strangely uninvolved in her life, content to sit unspeaking in front of the tv every night. Dell, although providing a necessary outlet for Abigail, never becomes much of a character. And aside from being cautionary, Abigail's fellow waitresses are simply types. The majority of the novel tracks the days and weeks immediately following the breakup of the marriage but once Abigail starts to consider who she really wants to be and what would bring her happiness, the pace goes from slow to blazing fast, wrapping up a much changed Abigail's life in just a short chapter or three. There's definitely humor woven throughout Abigail's struggle, especially in reference to her weight, which helps to lighten the over all mood of the story a fair bit. A quick and easy book to read, a nice tale about change, reinvention and finding the joy in life, it was generally enjoyable although some of the repetition could have been dispensed with for the reader's sake.

For more information about Ellen Hawley and the book, take a look at her web page, follow her at Twitter, read her blog, or check out the book's Goodreads page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. Abigail sounds like quite a character, and one I'd enjoy getting to know. Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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