Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book review: Two Weeks Under

Full disclosure: This book was sent to me by a publicist to review. At first, when I read the concept, I was turned off. Then I read a sample chapter and got hooked by the story, so I agreed to accept a sample copy and review the book if I liked it.

This book starts with an idea that many women have had: What if you could go to sleep and wake up twenty pounds thinner? The plot of Two Weeks Under centers around lush, otherworldly Monarch Spa and Gym, which offers a "medically induced coma diet" in addition to a dizzying array of gourmet diet foods, health products, exercise options, and plastic surgery. Though the primary target audience is women who are at least 60 pounds overweight, Monarch also markets the "vanity coma" to average-sized women who want to trim down to model-like proportions.

The book is a thriller set in a near-future version of New York City, where a string of suicides among single professional women in Manhattan is attributed to nervous exhaustion and workaholism. Main character Elana Diamond finds out that the latest suicide is someone close to her and tries to figure out what happened. In the midst of this quest, she is also struggling to save her high-powered job at a marketing agency where her main rival is also her ex-fiancé. When Elana hears about Monarch, she decides that a contract with such a huge client is just what she needs to wow her boss and keep her job safe.

The day after the book arrived, I thought I'd sit down and read just a few pages. Four hours later, I was reading as fast as I could as if Elana was counting on me to help her find out the truth before it's too late. I was reminded of the Da Vinci Code, because even as my rational mind acknowledged that some things in the book seemed implausible to the point of being ridiculous, I was totally wrapped up in the plot and the world the author had created for me. The descriptions of Monarch are especially rich and vivid, and the characters are compelling (even the ones with hokey, romance-novelly names like Libra Hermes).

The one thing that marred the book a little for me was that I wasn't sure how we were supposed to take it when two women, both around 5'6" and 145 pounds, feel "disgusted" with their weight. Were we supposed to see this as part of the general craziness or were we supposed to agree with them? I am the same height and would feel skinny at 145, though maybe I wouldn't if I lived in Manhattan.
Author Rivka Tadjer's description of her own size and eating habits on her blog made me wonder. The descriptions of obese women, defined as at least 60 pounds overweight -- since ideal weight for 5'6" seems to be 125 in this book, they could weigh around 185 -- as having "chins wobbling" and "labored breathing" also makes me wonder. I am not sure if these opinions belonged to the narrator or the author, though I'd like to give Tadjer the benefit of the doubt. Other characters seem to find these women compelling at their "disgusting" weight and later Elana seems to have a different perspective on things.

For me, questions aside, the book was worth reading because through the crazy concept of the "vanity coma," Tadjer helps us to see the insanity in our agonies over the last twenty pounds and the common practice where women over 35 feel they should be able to have the bodies of the 17-year-olds who market products to them. I felt a little more empowered and happy with my own perfectly imperfect body after I finished reading. Besides, the book made my heart race enough that I'm sure I burned a few extra calories.


  1. I start to feel skinny at around 147. In fact maybe 150. And I am five feet five. But I guess if I'd been 120 all my life or even ever for that matter (except for maybe at age 15) then the 145 could feel bad. But I'd love a 145.. Anyway, I like your book reviews. Thanks!

  2. the publisher contacted me about reviewing this book, too, but after i sent her my address the book never came. who knows, i was looking forward to it though. thanks for the review, i may go pick this up for myself even if the publisher did blow me off!

  3. I just got the following email from Rivka Tadjer and thought I'd share in case anyone else had the same question I did:

    "Hi there,
    I loved your review and your blog.
    I can't seem to post on it, though -- some mixup with my Google account.
    Anyway, I wanted to tell you thank you, and thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt when it came to the weight issue.
    It was definitely a comment on the craziness: Neither Elana nor Pam ever needed to lose weight, and those are the women doing the craziest things.

    I was wondering if you'd like to swap blog links? I'd love to link to your site from my blog roll.
    Take care,
    Rivka Tadjer



"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07