Many authors who have risen to the heights of fame and acclaim that Atwood has reached have forgettable first novels, but Atwood is a clear exception to that. The Edible Woman is brazen, thought-provoking,and amusing all at the same time.
Marian McAlpin is a recent college graduate living in an unnamed Canadian city. She began dating Peter, an attorney, just as she started her job as a copy writer at a marketing research firm. Before she even realized that their relationship was serious or "going somewhere", she and Peter become engaged. Strangely enough, it happens after a fit of anxiety that literary causes Marian to run frantically into the night, away from Peter and the possibility of captivity.
The wedding plans are hastily taken over by Marian's family, the plans for the rest of their life are taken over by Peter (plans that included Marian quiting her job and becoming a housewife) and Marian begins to feel consumed.
Marian's onset of food aversions are comical, but also very symbolic--the thought of being coldly and methodically consumed keeps Marian from eating during the weeks leading up to her wedding as she tries to imagine giving up her independence.
Nearly every aspect of this novel is a symbol, a cultural comment of some kind. The most obvious, of course, is about food, but there are others, including the deep pit Marian stares into just days before her wedding. The characters are also neatly compartmentalized into varying degrees of traditional stagnation. They range from the stodgy old sexless landlady; the 3 "office virgins" at Marian's company; Clara, a college friend who is deeply immersed in the doldrums of wifery and motherhood; and the scheming Ainsley, Marian's roommate who plots to become pregnant with the help of an unsuspecting man. Peter, Marian's fiancee, openly balks at marriage at the novel's beginning; however, superb plot development shows that men have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It's the wife-to-be who is expected to surrender everything. Not-so-subtle remarks about uppity women who "trap" men by becoming pregnant (like Ainsley and the wife of Peter's friend Trigger) and about the perils of educating women (it's a risk to allow them to get ideas, you see) make this novel all the more wonderful.
This is not a lightweight novel, in spite of its somewhat silly subject matter and hilarious plot twists. Only those who go in with their eyes wide open will finish this novel having been enriched and satisfied.