Thursday, January 28, 2010
Publisher's Summary. 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.
Review. “Be careful what you wish for” is the saying that reverberated through my head while reading Julie Powell’s new memoir Cleaving. After the huge success of her break through memoir Julie and Julia, author Powell is contacted by an old flame. This leads to an affair that nearly destroys Powell’s marriage as well as her self worth. At the same time as her personal soap opera, Powell embarks on an apprenticeship, as background for Cleaving, at Fleisher’s butcher shop.
The memoir switches between detailed depictions of butchery along Powell’s romantic travails. Periodically recipes are included. While this seems disjointed it actually works fairly well. Witness, this passage:
A liver is unlike any other organ . . . . A liver is a mystery. It’s a filter. The liver records experience, the indulgences and wrong turns; it contains within it a constantly updated state-of-the union address. But it keeps what it knows a secret. Encoded. It cleans up after itself, too, will after a time purge files, dispensing unnecessary information, what’s been relegated to the past, keeping what’s needed. There are even some hopeful, possibly deluded souls who believe a cirrhotic liver can heal itself, with time, and with gentleness.
Cleaving was a difficult read for me. One the one hand, I admired Powell’s candor about her obsession with her ex lover. Anyone who has ever been on the wrong side of a love turned sour can probably relate to some of the feelings and/or actions that Powell confesses to. On the other hand, I sometimes felt that reading it was the literary equivalent of pawing through Powell’s lingerie drawer (even with the author’s invitation and the written consents of her husband Eric and her ex D). In addition, while Powell is a gifted writer, I generally skimmed over many of the detailed butchery passages. In sum, this memoir was a mixed bag for me.
Cleaving is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of answered prayers.
Review based on a book borrowed from the library.