by Jane Green Green, Jane
Category: Fiction / General
373 pages; ISBN: 0767905180
Rating: 5/10 (Ratings explained)
Jemima Jones is an overweight food addict with no real friends and a dead-end job dispensing “hot tips” for the local newspaper. Convinced that her gorgeous office crush will never notice her, Jemima pursues the intrigue and anonymity of internet romance, recreating herself as the slim, beautiful “J. J.”
Green’s novel is awash with potential. The plight of the overweight (or anyone low on the aesthetic food chain) resonates more than ever as our culture becomes increasingly appearance obsessed, and internet dating—not just for freaks and geeks anymore—is a wonderland of dramatic and comic possibilities. Moreover, Green employs a clever narrative structure with several shifting perspectives, including an omniscient third person who addresses the reader directly, an uncommon technique in grocery store fiction.
Unfortunately, the novel never meets its potential. I enjoy post-modernism as much as the next masochist, but you cannot get so cute with narrative voices that you forget to let your characters speak; recall the first English teacher commandment: “Show, don’t tell.” In essence, Green’s book suffers from a grave imbalance between showing and telling. For example, we are told that Jemima sabotages her own diets because subconsciously she fears losing the invisibility her weight provides; even in her loneliness she wants to keep people away. It’s a compelling and psychologically accurate observation, but readers should be led to it by clues. Much of the pleasure in reading self-discovery narratives comes from attending the epiphany party with the protagonist, but it’s almost as if Green doesn’t trust us to get it right, shoving her bossy narrator in our faces to read Jemima for us. Nearly as annoying is that fact we are told over and over that Jemima is funny, while Green rarely grants her any witty lines. Don’t tell me she’s funny—write her to make me laugh.
The real disappointment of jemima j, however, is its bizarre host of mixed messages. When Jemima starts losing weight, our busy-body narrator informs us that the weight loss is dangerously fast and too reliant upon under-eating and over-exercising, yet Jemima still reaps all the rewards the world hands out to the thin (and the blond, according to this book) and suffers no ill health. Indeed, the book unapologetically upholds rigid cultural beauty standards, suggesting that a woman who feels persecuted by them should just get a damn makeover already. (Feeling disempowered? Conform! Everybody’s doing it.) In fact, in the book’s creepiest scene, Jemima’s trendy, fortune-hunting friend—a strange role model anyway—has a computer tech scan and alter a snapshot of Jemima, slicing away pieces of her face and attaching her head to a model’s body. The imagery of plastic surgery here really is offensive, as everyone coos over how beautiful Jemima would be if she only looked like all the other laser-trimmed phonies. The book gives some lip service to how unfair it is that such a nice, smart, funny (see my comments above) person as Jemima should be unlucky in love just because she’s not conventionally attractive, but then she only gets the man she wants by rendering herself unrecognizable to him. I fail to see the affirmation.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a poignant fairy tale about denying cultural beauty standards and finding true love, skip jemima j and rent Shrek again.