If Sylvia Plath were a black woman, she’d be Venise Berry.
Although All of Me: A Voluptuous Tale was written through the eyes of an obese African- American woman, it has a universal appeal.
This book is the story of a woman who grew up in a society that didn’t accept her. The incessant pressure of not fitting into society’s prefabricated physical mold eventually breaks the heroine Serpentine Williamson, and she ends up in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt.
Serpentine is the Esther Greenwood of the 21st century. She is tortured by who she is and what society tells her she should be. Serpentine also realizes that trying to find identity in a world of lollipop actresses and
models isn’t easy.
As she rebuilds her life and her self-esteem, Serpentine relives the most important defining moments in her life. From her detailed and emotional depictions of the first time she met her best friend to the sad and tragic re-telling of her rape, the reader begins to understand that beneath things like race and gender, we’re all equal.
Serpentine is a physical manifestation of the innate insecurities everyone has. She is beautiful and intelligent, but because she doesn’t fit into a size six, she feels ugly. As a high school student, she tries a long list of fad diets, which all fail.
Berry speaks of sex and love with an ease most writers fumble with, while Serpentine comes off as a real person readers can relate to.
The novel addresses issues like racial stereotypes and the question of “what is real beauty?” What makes this book appealing are the non-traditional characters. They are not glorified nor perfect. They have flaws just as all people possess. Serpentine’s boyfriends are like men every woman has dated, from the obnoxious marketer to the sensitive high school crush who changes her attitude toward life.
After her release from the hospital, Serpentine begins to recognize the things she has to let go to choose what is important to her and what is noise.
Unlike most novels, the secondary characters serve a purpose. They are a vital part to the plot and each one serves a distinct role.
Berry’s words are heartfelt and honest. Her language is succinct, yet conveys unabashed truth: A woman can be beautiful and not be a size three.
Finally, Serpentine teaches us that love is fleeting and the only person we can rely on is ourself.