Book Review: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession by Julie Powell
First Published: 2009
Genre: Memoir, Food
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Julie Powell thought cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the craziest thing she’d ever do–until she embarked on the voyage recounted in her new memoir, CLEAVING.
Her marriage challenged by an insane, irresistible love affair, Julie decides to leave town and immerse herself in a new obsession: butchery. She finds her way to Fleischer’s, a butcher shop where she buries herself in the details of food. She learns how to break down a side of beef and French a rack of ribs–tough, physical work that only sometimes distracts her from thoughts of afternoon trysts.
The camaraderie at Fleischer’s leads Julie to search out fellow butchers around the world–from South America to Europe to Africa. At the end of her odyssey, she has learned a new art and perhaps even mastered her unruly heart.
This book confused me slightly. It picks up roughly two years after Julie and Julia ends with Julie having taken up an apprenticeship at a butcher’s shop in New Jersey. The first question that comes to mind is why? Over three hundred pages later and I’m still not exactly sure.
Julie tells us that she’s always wanted to be a butcher. I have read her first memoir and in that I learned that she had trouble killing lobsters because she didn’t think it was all that humane. Also, she didn’t buy a proper boning knife till eleven months into her year challenge. Neither of these facts really lead me to believe that her butchery desire was anything other than a recent development.
The entire first half of the book is description of butcher skills interspersed with events of Julie’s personal life – both present and flashbacks and it all just didn’t make much sense to me. There were times when the memories didn’t seem relevant to the other happenings in the story.
Descriptions of breaking down a side of beef and how to French a crown rack of lamb were interesting but in the end there was just too much of it. They were not detailed enough for a person to try and use it as a how-to guide but at the same time they were too in-depth for me to be anything but bored by them. I found myself skipping some of if because I’m never going to do any of that meat work and after the first dozen the novelty of reading about how a butcher does it had worn off.
The second half of the book was like a poor cousin to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. Julie decided to go on a world wide trip to see how different cultures and countries butcher their meat. For me, it didn’t really feel like this part of the novel matched up to the first half.
It’s hard for me to look at a book and it’s characters when I know in the back of my mind that these are real people the author is writing about. At times I was disgusted by how Julie treated every person she met in this book but at the same time, knowing that she wrote it herself and she was the one to chose to portray herself in this light, I respected her for being so brutally honest. She knew how awfully she treated Eric and how pathetically obsessed she was with D. I feel slightly uncomfortable for Eric – having the entire world (or at least the ones who have read this book) know how his wife cuckolded him and how she badly she treated him in general.
This book had some things I enjoyed but ultimately not even the over-abundance of Buffy and other pop culture references could save it in my eyes. It was the literary equilivant to a car crash – horrible and yet I couldn’t quite stop myself from reading till the end.
1 out of 5
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