Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Book Review: Cheat Day

By Jami Denison

Sometimes I think about just how much willpower it takes to get through the day. Getting up, showering, getting to work, plowing through a to-do list, going to the gym, saying no to fattening foods… teeth brushing and flossing, going to bed early, only to start it all over again. Psychologists say that willpower is a resource that can be depleted, and using too much of it in one area makes it harder to control another—that’s why some folks who are religious about exercise also eat terribly. There’s only so many times a person can say no before they give in.

I was reminded of these willpower studies while reading Liv Stratman’s debut novel, Cheat Day, which came out last spring in hardcover and was just released in paperback. In her mid-30s and married to her college sweetheart, Kit has never been happy with her body. When she decides to embark on a 75-day eating program called the Radiance Regime, she knows it’s going to be twice as hard since she’s also gone back to work at her sister’s bakery. Determined to stick to the program no matter what, Kit isn’t nearly as steadfast when it comes to her marriage. Enamored of the carpenter her sister hired to create new shelves at the bakery, Kit quickly falls into an affair with him. 

Other reviewers describe Cheat Day as witty and funny, but this wasn’t a story that made me laugh. My heart went out to Kit, who felt so unseen by her family that she fell into bed with a man she barely knew. In a less well-written book, this action would have made the protagonist too unlikeable to root for, but in Stratman’s capable hands, Kit’s pain was palpable. Her husband David isn’t a bad guy at all, and his family is lovely. But he’s a workaholic who’s never home. Abandoned by her father at an early age and constantly belittled by her sister, Kit hates everything about her life. Her diet is the only thing she feels she can control, and the only thing she has to look forward to is spending time with her lover. 

I’m twenty years older than Kit, and there aren’t that many people in her age group in my life. But I felt that she was a good stand-in for the millennial generation. She’s working in a job where she’s overqualified and underappreciated; her husband has to work 24/7 so they can enjoy an occasional concert or nice restaurant. They don’t have the time or money for kids. There are estranged parents and younger half-siblings; the trapped feeling of living as an adult in the house one grew up in. I felt desperately sorry for Kit, and her entire generation. Is this what passes for humorous fiction these days? 

If you’re looking for a romantic comedy about a woman trying to stick to a diet while working in a bakery, Cheat Day may not be your book. But if you want to read a realistic novel about the desperate lengths a woman will go to in order to experience pleasure while living under late-stage capitalism, Cheat Day will deliver for you. 

Thanks to SparkPoint Studio for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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