The Whole Clove Diet ~ Reviewed by Pearl LukeBook Reviews Monday, October 15th, 2012
The Whole Clove Diet by Mary W. Walters
Paperback, 418 pages, March 2012
Reviewed by Pearl Luke
The Whole Clove Diet is a delightful read, light and witty, but also substantial, like good dinner conversation. And initially dinner, along with all other meals and snacks, is the protagonist’s main preoccupation. Although Rita commits to a new diet every few weeks, she can’t wait to get from one bite to the next.
Younger than her widower husband by several years, she feels trapped in, even tricked into, the wrong life. While she and Graham dated, his children were mostly absent, out of sight at their grandparents’ home. Now, after her marriage, Rita sees the unhappy children more than she sees their father—or so it seems to her. So she eats her way through her resentment and self-pity. When she’s not eating, she curbs her hunger with cigarettes.
This is not to say that Rita has nothing to complain about. Graham is a good-natured husband, well meaning but self-absorbed, oblivious to her needs despite his love for her, and Rita’s career plans never included being an unpaid housekeeper. Nor can she talk to her mother, Elvie, who has made all the sacrifices she wishes to make for her daughter.
For anyone familiar with the television comedy series Three and a Half Men, Charlie and Alan’s mother will spring to mind. “She may have started out as a ‘no-future cocktail waitress,’ … but she doesn’t resemble one any more.” When Rita tells her mother that “money’s not everything,” Elvie says only, “It’s a start.”
It’s easy to identify with charming, witty Elvie—an elegant, unflappable and pragmatic woman—because Rita is at first always looking for a place to lay blame. She has never met her father, so maybe “her father’s genes were responsible for her tendency to fat.” Likewise, it’s often Rosa, Graham’s seemingly perfect dead wife, who “did this to her, got their expectations up.” And often, it’s simply “hunger that’s making her feel this way.”
However, Rita is more like her mother than she knows, and soon, without even recognizing that she has begun, she takes control of her life.
Subtle humour in the Whole Clove Diet is derived in part from plausible, amusing circumstances, such as when Rita’s muffler gives out just before she drops her mother off to meet a wealthy client, and from the way Walters inserts into ordinary descriptions words that abruptly change the descriptive flavour, as when the word “untoned” sharpens the description of Rita’s husband Graham:
Same calories in beer as cake, she thinks, but they must be the kind of calories that don’t stick, or at least they don’t stick to Graham. At five ten, he’s a hundred and sixty pounds of bone and untoned flesh…
Walters uses the outrageous diets dispersed through the text satirically, but the final one, the “whole clove diet,” takes on additional significance. Cloves have long been used as a home remedy for their anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. How fitting, then, that the “whole clove diet,” finally frees Rita from her physical and psychological suffering.
The Whole Clove Diet
- Eat fewer calories than you consume.
- Avoid eating anything that’s likely to kill you either eventually or immediately.
- Get some exercise.
- When the going gets tough, stick a clove in your cheek. Don’t chew it. Just hold it there until it falls apart.
- Do not whine.
This is a novel likely to make readers smile in recognition and feel good as they read. Rita Turner will gnaw her way into your memory and never leave.
Other reviews by Pearl Luke
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