A series of loosely connected magazine articles on the theme of American excess would be the best way to describe this work. Please note: I came to this conclusion before reading the title page which says “Portions of “Chapter 3: Saline and Silicone, Supersized” were originally published in Marie Claire.” That’s right. Not only does it read like a series of themes magazine articles, portions of it were a magazine article. From a women’s magazine. Super.
So, aside from the loosey-goosey chapter paste-together job, how does the book do? Well, Ms. Wexler can turn a phrase and the editing seems… ok. The exploration of the main theme, American excess, is weakly done, and primarily from the view of the author. This leads me to my main irritation with the book, which I alluded to in the first paragraph: it seems to have been written to give a writer a job.
When I read a book (which is a substantial time investment), I expect to see an in-depth treatment of a thesis, not just a superficial observation and how the author thinks about it. I expect new knowledge, insights, and lots of “meat” to the story. I want something that treats the subject matter aggressively, knowledgeably, and thoroughly. I like a discussion of various hypotheses, and evidence to support those hypotheses, and a fair treatment of the intellectual merit of the theme. Naturally, I rarely find books that are worthwhile, and this one is no exception.
The book flits from megachurches to a Las Vegas Hotel, to McMansions, to the Mall of America, to Tiffany’s flagship store in New York, and to the largest landfill and largest ball of twine. The only real connection between these being that they are the “largest” of their category and that our intrepid author visited them. That’s where I start to get the sense that the author sold the book and then had to write it, and threw together a series of articles and called it “Book.” This is really too bad, because I really would’ve like to see an insightful, educated analysis of the U.S. drive for size.
So, if you want to feel a little better about not having the biggest and best of anything and don’t want to be particularly challenged by your non-fiction, then read this book. Otherwise, you’re not missing anything.
Oh, look at her biography:
Sarah Z. Wexler is a staff writer at Allure. She has written for Esquire, Wired, The Washington post Magazine, Popular Science, Marie Claire, and Ladies’ Home Journal. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction and lives in New York.
Now apply every stereotype you could have of someone who has that background. That’s a good summary of the book.