How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann
Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: May 31st, 2022
Hardcover. 304 pages.
About How to Be Eaten:
"This darkly funny and provocative novel reimagines classic fairy tale characters as modern women in a support group for trauma.
In present-day New York City, five women meet in a basement support group to process their traumas. Bernice grapples with the fallout of dating a psychopathic, blue-bearded billionaire. Ruby, once devoured by a wolf, now wears him as a coat. Gretel questions her memory of being held captive in a house made of candy. Ashlee, the winner of a Bachelor-esque dating show, wonders if she really got her promised fairy tale ending. And Raina's love story will shock them all.
Though the women start out wary of one another, judging each other’s stories, gradually they begin to realize that they may have more in common than they supposed . . . What really brought them here? What secrets will they reveal? And is it too late for them to rescue each other?
Dark, edgy, and wickedly funny, this debut for readers of Carmen Maria Machado, Kristen Arnett, and Kelly Link takes our coziest, most beloved childhood stories, exposes them as anti-feminist nightmares, and transforms them into a new kind of myth for grown-up women."
How to Be Eaten is described as a modern day story that “reimagines classic fairy tale characters as modern women in a support group for trauma.” I wasn't sure how the execution of this premise would be, as it sounded amazing but also tricky to do, so I was really pleased and excited by the stories that I found within these pages.
Each chapter covers one week’s session of the group meetings, and in each meeting we hear one woman’s story as she relays it to the rest of the group, slowly working through each woman over the course of five weeks. There are also small chapters sprinkled throughout that focus on the group leader, Will, and share a brief look into his perspective, but these are pretty short and don’t take up too much of the narrative time. I liked this general format for the story and felt it lended really well towards giving readers a chance to focus on one woman at a time, while also getting to hear from the other women as they interrupt the stories with their comments and discussions, which I’ll discuss a bit more later.
I found each woman to have a distinct and compelling personality for the most part, though there were a couple characters that felt less “prominent” than others and I occasionally found them slipping my mind or blending in with others. The women we hear from include: Bernice, from the Bluebeard story; Ruby, aka Little Red; Ashlee, who starred in a Bachelor-esque reality TV show and whose fairy tale connection I’m still a little uncertain of; Raina, whose story connected to Rumpelstiltskin; and lastly is Gretel, of Hansel and Gretel. Getting all of these women with such unique backgrounds was quite an experience, and I found myself most intrigued by how the author chose to weave them into a modern day backdrop. For instance, in Bernice’s Bluebeard-inspired story, Bernice dates a man with a literal blue-dyed beard who is a tech billionaire, and subsequent events follow. There were a lot of really interesting ways that Adelmann connected the characters to their stories and in how she had them open up about their individual traumas and struggles. There’s always a bit of an air of the unknown and somewhat magical vibe as well that lingers around each woman, though the harsh and bitter realities of life often seem to tamp these down.
As much as I enjoyed each story, I also found myself wanting just a bit from each of the individual women’s stories, as well as from the overarching story and theme as well. I was, in general, satisfied with the ending, but I still feel as though there were some stories and areas that felt rushed, while other had more time spent on various scenes in their own stories that didn’t match up with the time given to others. For instance, Gretel’s story was one of the most interesting to me, but also one of the relatively shortest ones (or at least it felt that way, as the substance of her story didn’t focus as much on the past experience itself so much as the trauma and aftereffects, which did make some sense to do), and even the parts of the story that we did get didn’t really contain that much content, or so it felt. I understand that this may have been done on purpose since so much of How to Be Eaten provides commentary on the media and the desire by the public to constantly peer into other people’s lives and tragedies, but at the same time I felt that it was somewhat necessary to have enough backstory to really understand each woman’s present character and struggles she endured to get to where she is today, as well as to figure out where she’s going in the future.
The conversations among the women that popped up while a story was being told were often interesting as well and touched on compelling discussion topics about the media, women, privacy, sexism, etc., but I'm not sure if they really went anywhere further than general discussion. There doesn't have to be an "answer," and anyone who has been to therapy knows there often aren't any real answers, but it sometimes left me wanting a bit more from the author’s writing.
How to Be Eaten was a darkly funny and also difficult story that touched on some very serious issues at the same time, such as PTSD, trauma, learning how to live and regain one's life and individuality, and much more. It's a bit gruesome at times in a variety of ways, so I do recommend caution if you are sensitive to any of the mentioned themes or content. Adelmann has a wonderful imagination and a prose that really cuts to the core of any story or situation and left me deeply engrossed in each and every story shared.
Overall, I’ve given How to Be Eaten four stars! If you enjoy stories that touch on fairy tale elements, stories that dive into people’s lives and examine their past and how it affects their presents, or simply an engaging tale of five very different but also very similar women, then you should definitely pick this one up.
*I received a copy of How to Be Eaten courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*