Hello, dear friends. I’m on a roll. Make that a whole-grain roll. Here is another “different kind of book review,” this time of Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin. Carrie is not just a writer but she’s also a physician and public health advocate, a powerful combination evidenced by her novel. I’d add humorist as well since she’s quite adept at that humor so particular to the medical professions. You have been warned.
Without further ado, a different kind of book review of Eating Bull …
Maggie stared at the plate of garlic french fries that the waitress had just placed in the middle of their table, after also depositing a black-bean burger with Provolone cheese in front of her, a quarter-pound Angus burger with blue cheese in front of Mary, and one with Brie in front of Melissa. Beside each of their plates stood tall glasses of iced Coke Zero. “Save room for dessert, ladies! Today we have several kinds of cheesecake!” The waitress trotted away from them, her blond ponytail bouncing away, her petite figure hugged gently, almost lovingly, by stretch denim.
“Bet she doesn’t eat here.” Melissa scowled, shrugged and then took a bite of her burger. Melissa was thin too. No matter what she ate or how much she ate, she had always been and, no doubt, always would be thin. She was thin to the point of angularity, but aside from a couple of bad spells when she stopped eating because of stress, she had, best as her cousins could tell, a healthy appetite.
And for that, Mary and Maggie harbored some resentment toward her. They both “watched” their weight and seemed to be in a perpetual struggle to just maintain the status quo. For Maggie, that meant walking an extra mile or two whenever the waistband of her favorite jeans was a bit too snug for comfort. For Mary, it meant fasting until she get her jeans zipped without having to lie on the bed.
Maggie hadn’t touched her food yet and was still staring at the fries, their delicate garlic scent making her stomach grumbled.
Melissa looked her. “It’s like that line in the book: ‘Like a dog in search of a bone, he longed to scamper after the scent.’ All the smells in this restaurant conspire to make us hungry, or think we’re hungry.”
“Oh, but we are hungry. It’s been, what, six hours since breakfast? I don’t feel guilty about ordering this food and, Maggie, you shouldn’t either.” Mary wiped away some blue cheese that frosted the side of her mouth. “Just skip supper tonight, or have something light.”
Melissa snapped her fingers in front of Maggie and her cousin jerked back to awareness.
“Sorry, I was just thinking. Thinking of why we had decided to discuss the book here. I mean, it’s about obesity and serial killers for goodness sake and we’re sitting here with the vehicles of death ready for consumption.” Maggie popped a few fries into her mouth and then picked up her burger, eyeing it for the best line of attack.
Mary snorted. “Vehicles of death! Well, I get it. I have to admit, after reading Eating Bull, I didn’t think I’d ever have a burger again. Thank goodness, we don’t have any fast-food places in this town.”
Melissa nodded and scarfed down a few fries. “But that’s only because we have too small a population. Even when the slopes are open, most skiers stay across the lake, not here. And there you do see places like Mickey D and Burger King.”
“Well, since we’re here and we think we can rationalize eating burgers while discussing the novel, what did you think of it?” Maggie had chosen Eating Bull for their book club so she could rationalize steering her cousins to do the discussing while she ate.
“Oh, I loved it,” Mary mumbled through a mouthful of fries. She swallowed, then took a big gulp of soda. “I don’t think I’ve ever come across a thriller that made me laugh. Carrie Rubin has that kind of humor you hear among medical and public health professionals, all very tongue-in-cheek but still spot-on.”
“Yeah, she has that unflinching perspective. How did she describe one character? “Her wide ass an egg crate of dimples”? Egad, I had to drop the book and then my pants to check out my own butt when I read that!” Melissa laughed out loud, something she rarely did. Her cousins stared at her for a moment, incredulous that, of the three of them, she’d be the one worried about what her ass looked like.
“Out of context, some of her descriptions may seem harsh, like when Jeremy describes his presence as like “an orca in a kiddie pool.” But it was Jeremy thinking that about himself, so I felt okay about laughing, but then I also felt sad.” Mary pushed around the fries with her fingernails, as if unsure whether to have any more.
“Yes, there’s the humor, the dark humor, but I was also impressed with how sympathetic she made the serial killer.” Maggie pushed aside her plate, her burger half-eaten. “I don’t know if schizophrenic is the right word or not, but he hears a voice, something telling him what to do. He’s a very sick man and at the extreme end of the spectrum on health and fitness. Jeremy was at the other end. His mother, Connie, somewhere in the middle. I thought of her as being like the rest of us. She didn’t need to be perfect. She just needed the tools and the support to live a healthier life.”
“What did you think about Sue the Warrior?” Mary smiled as she asked. She had really liked the character of Sue but she wasn’t sure why. They had nothing in common.
“She was a warrior, wasn’t she? Almost to the point of pissing me off though.” Melissa pushed her plate away, a limp piece of lettuce being the only remnant of her burger. “I mean, she had an uphill battle, trying to take on the fast-food industry, and I could understand why she wanted to. As a public health nurse, she knows it’s just not fair to expect that you only need self-discipline to control your weight and be healthy. It’s easy for people who have quick access to healthy food and safe neighborhoods, but near impossible for people like Jeremy. Every time he walked to school, he ran the risk of being beat-up by bullies, and the only safe places for him are the fast-food places.”
“Every time Jeremy thought of going to the vending machine, I wanted to yell “No, don’t go!” But I understood the pull. What’s the point of denying yourself your comfort food when you already feel like a failure? But why did Sue almost piss you off?” Maggie looked directly at Melissa, willing herself to not look at the chocolate peanut butter cheesecake being delivered to the table in front of her.
“Well, maybe I’m being a little harsh. It’s just that she was so focused on “the greater good,” that she lied by omission, keeping her husband out of the loop, endangering her life and their home. Even keeping information from Connie. She was playing with fire and sometimes she was just too righteous about it.”
Maggie nodded, practically ducking as a triple berry cheesecake entered her peripheral vision. The colors of the cheesecake also reminded her of the first killing scene in the novel. She might have to avoid red and yellow food for a while.
Mary made a loud sucking sound with her straw and then quietly burped. “Overall, what I really liked about this novel is the complexity of the characters. Everyone has flaws. Sue isn’t perfect and that makes her believable. An imperfect warrior, if you will. Jeremy is a sweet kid but also a coward, although understandably so. Connie is a good mom but has lousy judgment about men. Darwin, well, he’s a serial killer so I guess no redeeming qualities there. But everyone else has their pluses and minuses, even the minor characters.”
“And the novel’s not preachy, either. Sue is preachy, but the novel overall is not preachy. There’s a good, well-paced plot. I also like how she wrote from different perspectives, Sue, Jeremy, and even Darwin. It’s always creepy to get inside the head of a psychopath, but the why of his killing people is critical to the story.” Maggie looked around for their waitress. She waited to pay the bill and get out of there.
“And it ends as it should end, but Rubin keeps you on the edge, especially in the last few chapters. I swear, even though I figured out who Darwin was early on, part of me still felt unsure until almost the end. So many people seemed capable of being Darwin, which is a scary thought by itself.” Melissa raised her hand and snapped her fingers, calling out “Check, please” as their waitress dropped off one amaretto cheesecake and three forks to a table of three young women. For a moment, she thought … and then she thought not.
Mary piled their plates, a habit long held over from her summers waitressing at this same restaurant. “At least, this isn’t a fast-food place. I’ll grant that most of the food is high in calories, but at least it’s cooked fresh and you can make substitutions. I can’t believe I worked here after school. That was almost thirty years ago.”
“Yes, well … .” Maggie smiled up at the waitress as she handed her the check. “I am glad Jake is keeping this place in the family and not caving into super sizing everything and offering deals for more food than is safe to eat.”
As they stood up to leave, Melissa directed her cousins’ attention to the table of three women sharing a slice of cheesecake. “Next time,” Maggie said. “No burgers but we could have coffee and share one of those.” The other two smiled as they followed her out of the crowded restaurant.
Well, my friends, I hope you enjoyed this review and will waste no time in picking up a copy of Eating Bull, available at Amazon. Bon appétit!