I loved The Seep by Chana Porter so I was excited to read a full length novel by her!
The Thick and the Lean is a science fiction, dystopian book about food, religion, sex, body image, climate change, disability, and so much more.
The Thick and the Lean follows various women who are living very different lives within this peculiar society. The world of The Thick and the Lean is unique, but it draws heavily from the real world. My one critique of this novel is that I never fully grasped what this world looked like. I could not necessarily envision it, which is something that rarely happens to me even when I'm reading fantasy and science fiction. While this bothered me a little, the world that Porter builds is one of high technology, cults, climate change, and women making the lives they want for themselves. I loved that this book was discussing SO many important topics and issues we are dealing with in the world today, but through the lens of such interesting characters living in such an imaginative world. While this society is dealing with things like capitalism and climate change, it is also very sex positive and has a very interesting relationship with food.
We follow a young girl who lives in a cult that believes eating as little as possible brings them closer to god. Her secret is that she loves food and is always thinking of new flavors and recipes to try. Another character gets a scholarship to go to university, but when her scholarship is taken away, she must figure out how to make a successful life for herself. The last character is one from the past. She is a kitchen maid who finds love that ends up lifting her station and changing her life, but is her life what she wants it to be?
This is a hard novel to describe so I hope my descriptions gave it at least some justice. Chana Porter's writing and world building are so unquiet, diverse, and thoughtful.
I would recommend this to:
- anyone who likes reading about society and social issues
-people who enjoy science fiction that isn't overly explained, but is different enough from our own world to cause intrigue
-anyone who wants to read a book that is different from anything they've read before
I really wanted to love this because the concept was really interesting. The idea of a cult where food is sin and a girl's stuggle with joining the real world afterwards definitely set my expectations too high. I'm not one to seek out spice in the books I read, and I think if I had known that sex was a large part of the story, I wouldn't have requested an ARC for this novel. I wish we could've gotten more of the restaurant because them trying to figure out how to make delicious food with limited resources was super interesting to me. Overall, I was a bit confused whenever we switched POVs and I didn't even know there was a "King" until like 3/4 of the way though the book. That could've been my fault for not catching it earlier but it still didn't seem like a necessary storyline to follow. I would be interested in going back and reading this author's previous novel because I've had it on my TBR shelf for a few years now, and I did enjoy the writing style, this book just wasn't for me.
I am not usually into descriptive words but this had some fun with descriptors and I loved it. I am a foodie at heart and this did such a good job of fantasy and foodie combination.
In the community of Seagate, abstaining from food brings you closer to god and eating for pleasure is forbidden. However, when Beatrice discovers an old cookbook, her world is turned upside down.
By the same author as The Seep, The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter brings a dystopian tale about desire.
I absolutely loved Porter's first novella and wanted to love this book as well, but unfortunately I found that The Thick and the Lean bites off more than it can chew. It's overly ambitious, cramming in a kitchen sink of social themes that it isn't able to thoroughly follow through on, resulting ultimately in a half-baked novel.
I also wish the setting itself had been explored and fleshed out more--especially since this book takes place on another planet. For instance, toward the beginning, it's mentioned in passing that the moons are causing high tides and a shrinking land mass, and yet, the effects of gravity and climate on the population aren't actively addressed in the narrative, which feels like such a missed opportunity to me.
Overall, I feel like the premise was interesting and had potential, but the story could have benefited from further developmental editing.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book, as this book has already been published, I will not share my review on Netgalley at this time.
9 Books About Our Many Complicated Relationships With Food
The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter
Chana Porter’s eerie, speculative novel is a near-future meditation on that which we do and don’t consider holy. In the extreme, self-depriving cult of Seagate, any food prepared as anything more decadent than fuel is a sin. Porter sharply has The Powers That Be use food to replace sex as the sensual experience to be overindulged while its members starve themselves in sacred disordered eating.
While the book collects multiple narratives including a Seagate escapee-turned-chef and a poor artist-turned-con-artist, most delightful are the interludes from The Kitchen Girl: a forbidden text detailing a humble castle chef’s inventive recipes that not only catch the king’s eye but also reshape the world for generations to come. You’ll be dying to try her sour pickle soup by the time you’re done.
I found this generally well-developed, and I thought the themes were well built into the world that Porter created. Food/diet as the main focus of a fundamentalist religion and the engine of capitalist destruction just made sense. That being said I think the time shifts come across more as a way to avoid doing work on character development than they do meaningful editorial choices, and I did feel like this was missing something. The conclusion doesn't come out of left field per se, but it does feel abrupt. Still, I think segments of this could be useful for classes on literature, religion, capitalism, culture, etc. and I do think the book is interesting to think with even if it's not my favourite literature of the year.
*Thanks to NetGalley and the Publishers for the eARC*
This book had a very interesting take on society, beauty standards, fatphobia, and classism. As someone who is plus sized, the fatphobia aspects were probably what stood out to me the most. The idea of living in a society that would gladly take drugs in order to limit their food intake so they could remain skinny is not a new concept, we're experiencing this right now and have been for a long time. I think the author did a good job exploring these concepts, and likely presenting them in an extreme manner that might stand out to people who aren't as educated on diet culture. The classism discussions were a bit all over the place, and honestly whether you were at the top, middle, or bottom of society, it still came with an enormous amount of pressure to maintain beauty standards.
The thing I think I had the most trouble with was the duel stories, along with the third story told through the book both characters come across. It was just a lot to follow and keep up with, and we really didn't see it all intersect until the very end, and even then it wasn't the most satisfying way to wrap up the book.
THE THICK AND THE LEAN by @chanaporter is a deliciously dystopian novel in a near future where cities are run by corporations and calories are restricted as thinness is considered the ultimate sacrifice to God. This is a story of capitalism, corporate greed, consumption and body politics.
Thank you to the author, @netgalley and the publisher @sagapressbooks for the e-ARC. This title released in April so is on shelves now!
The story follows two main characters, one from the Uber religious town of Seagate named Beatrice and one from another, more remote city on The Ground, named Reiko. The Ground is where a majority of the peasants live while the city in The Middle is where the universities and underground chefs reside, and The Above is where the elite reside.
Beatrice loves food, gets her hands on a cookbook and after making a delicious meal for a friend, is found out and must flee Seagate before being shipped off to reform school. Reiko is accepted to university, her dream, but finds her funds running out and becomes desperate to find some. Both women undergo an identity change to survive this world and battle the powers at be. Both are tied together by a secret cookbook found independently with the story of another woman fighting similar demons.
I loved this story and am quite enamoured with Porter's writing. I read THE SEEP by this author earlier this year as well and I would highly recommend her queer, dystopian, quirky stories. She gets at the heart of things by subtly pulling your brain and heart together. Her stories tackle big questions with ordinary characters who find their way.
Pick this one up if you like dystopian world-building and class hierarchy, you have a love of food that you sometimes feel is forbidden, you want to know what the term "flesh martyr" means, and if you love a strong female lead character (or two).
What is your favorite book that has food as a main story element?
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#dystopianbooks #chanaporter #thethickandthelean #sagapress #gallerybooks #bookworm #bookdragon
- thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an arc to review!
- i didn't feel engaged with the story, the characters, or the world, which sucked, as the description sounded so quirky and engaging, but the execution was lackluster for me.
I was very excited to receive an advanced copy of The Thick and the Lean, as Porter’s debut, The Seep, is one of my favorite books. While not exactly disappointed by it, I do find myself still a few weeks after finishing it contemplating the actual intended message of the book. Although I don’t believe every book needs to have a didactic message, straightforwardly articulated in a way that leave no room for discussion or contemplation within the reader after the fact, I do feel when dealing with themes as heavy as some of the ones explored in this book, a little bit of hand holding of its readers can’t hurt. I feel fairly confident in saying this is an exploration of what would happen if our societal views of eating and sex were essentially swapped. I don’t, however, feel that I fully understand what the point, if any, was regarding the way sex is portrayed in the book as being perceived in this society. The parts I personally found the most interesting were the discussion around religious trauma,
following the three perspectives of the protagonists and waiting to see how they might intersect, and the discussion around class. That said, again, the conversation around sex was a bit jarring to read in some of the ways it was portrayed, as I think it’s intended to be somewhat shocking and off-putting when I still don’t feel I understand what is attempting to be said. All of that to say, I did love the writing, enjoyed exploring the world and characters, and absolutely look forward to reading any and all of Porter’s future books. Thank you to Gallery Books and Netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Reviewed on my blog:
I would like to thank Gallery books for providing a digital copy of this novel via NetGalley. The Thick and the Lean introduces two protagonists: Beatrice and Reiko. The former belongs to religious community where enjoying food is considered sinful. Beatrice rebels against this idea by cooking on secret. Reiko is a college student who loses her funding and comes up with alternate sources of making money. The novel alternates between Beatrice and Reiko chapters as well as incorporating excerpts from a cookbook that both characters come across. The cookbook is centuries old. All three stories deal with rebelling against societal norms. Environmental activism, feminism, and capitalism are all explored in this novel. This novel works as it effectively examines these themes. and has a satisfying conclusion.
In a world where sex is holy and food is taboo, two very different girls grow up and find their way in this dystopian landscape. One, an aspiring chef in a cult whose members worship fasting and thinness, another who wants to pursue her tech abilities and climb the ladder. Interwoven with an ancient story that has been misinterpreted over the years (sound familiar), both women learn that life is never what we imagine or plan, but that we can still hold control over our bodies.
I was a big fan of The Seep, and though this is a different book entirely, I love the recurring themes of control over ourselves and our lives, particularly as women, and particularly in our current climate. I’ll be thinking about it for quite some time and will probably need a physical copy to re-read and mark up.
The Thick and the Lean is an exploration of so many themes with just a few. I thought the focus of society's views on food was interesting and very like how our societies view sexuality. Eating and enjoying food is for the depraved, so there are pills given out for supplementation and to reduce hunger. I am not sure that I entirely enjoyed this book, but the characters and themes are very interesting. It was the thoughtful world building that really kept my interest and characters!
I am so thankful to Gallery/Saga Books, Chana Porter, and NetGalley for getting advanced digital and physical copies of his book before publication day. What a seriously twisted and demented tale needing to be told. I am literally living for this book.
4.5 rounded up.
I was so excited to see that Chana Porter had a novel coming out! I LOVED The Seep by them. The surreal, hopeful dystopia really worked for me. This book absolutely lived up to my expectations.
The Thick and the Lean explores themes of desire, spirituality, colonization, climate change, and classism, set in a dystopia somewhere undefined. My interpretation was that it wasn't Earth. There is a cult that treats eating and enjoying food as similar to how many fundamentalist Christians treat lust and sex. The broader society also has similar, if less extreme, values. Chana Porter makes a fascinating contrast where sex and carnal pleasure are completely a nonissue in this society/cult. Adolescents are encouraged to explore their sexuality and each other. But, enjoying food is for the depraved, and those who cave feel immense shame. It really made me stop and think about what makes me feel shame and what doesn't and why.
We follow two (three -ish) point of views. All are young women who are processing their place in society and what they want out of life. One grew up in the cult; the other grew up in the lowest class. Following their lives and choices and perspectives was enjoyable and engaging.
As expected after reading The Seep, The Thick and the Lean continues to have readable, beautiful prose; fascinating, surreal world-building; philosophical supposing; prescient discussion; and plain, enjoyable story-telling.
I knocked off half a star because I felt the ending was weak. The ending felt abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying. However, the whole ride was thoroughly enjoyable and I highly recommend this book.
Thank you to Netgalley and Gallery Books, Gallery / Saga Press for the advanced reader copy.
Content warnings: body dysmorphia, eating disorder, cult, classism, racism, religion, death, dysfunctional family.
Chana Porter does an unexpected and simple sci-fi concept that changes everything well and thoroughly. It's thoughtful, it's unexpected, and it made me want to cook a really lovely meal and share it with friends, and save a dish for myself for later.
Beatrice longs for food: to taste the richness of butter and cream, the scent of spices, and the sweetness of sugar. She dreams of creating delicious meals for her friends and family to enjoy.
Reiko longs for security: the stability it provides and the wealth it offers her family.
Both are trapped and constrained by a dystopian society ruled by beauty, religion, and greed. A world where sex is far from taboo, and eating for pleasure is forbidden. Both must give up the lives they know to find the freedom they crave.
I don't know how to discuss this book, but I can tell you that Chana Porter can write. I cannot wait to read her backlist. I enjoyed both points of view throughout the book and how it all came together in the end, but I wish we had spent more time with Beatrice as I found her story more intriguing. I thought Porter did a good job telling the story she wanted without being soap boxy.
My overall issue with The Thick and the Lean is it is too long. I think it may have worked better as a novella.
I do think this book is best enjoyed by going in blind. I recommend if you like books with queer representation, books that are a little weird, and books that require a little work.
The Thick and the Lean will not be for everyone, especially for those that dislike the discussion of sexuality and sex scenes in books.
Thank you to NetGalley, Gallery Books, and Saga Press for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Thick and the Lean's cover initially caught my interest and the synopsis piqued my interest further. I thought it would be a dystopian take on Milk Fed or similar novels (e.g., Tender is the Flesh, Supper Club, or Nightbitch). I enjoyed the writing, world-building, character development, and discussion-opening ideas. But, something about the execution fell flat for me. I enjoyed the story but had trouble getting into the world and immersing myself in the story. I enjoyed the book and found the story compelling, but some unexplainable element was missing for me.