Last week I read “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession” by Julie Powell.
I really disliked it.
The fact that I disliked it so much makes me really sad. I met Julie Powell, figuratively speaking, through her first book, “Julie and Julia”. “Julie and Julia” is a charming, smart, and sassy book. A book about a woman trying to find her way in life and trying to do so through a massive cooking project. In one year’s time, she cooks all of the recipes in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. “Julie and Julia” brought Julia Child to my attention. She opened up this wonderful, interesting woman’s work for a new generation. After finishing Powell’s book, I immediately bought a copy of “Mastering”. (Have I cooked anything out of it? Not really, but my intentions are good.) I also read Julia Child’s biography, “My Live in France”, which is a wonderful read. It is also about a woman who finds herself through cooking. It is an inspirational and lovely book that I would highly recommend. I even loved the movie of the book! I personally think they should have made it into 2 movies instead of juxtaposing the two books against each other, but that’s just my opinion. Poor Amy Adams just couldn’t compete with Meryl Streep in the film. They shouldn’t have been set up against each other like that.
I’m getting off topic.
Basically, I loved all things about “Julie and Julia” and was very excited to get into her follow up novel, “Cleaving”. I finished it very quickly. Unfortunately, it is because I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I came to learn that I don’t like Julie Powell at all. Maybe it is safer to say that I don’t understand her. That I’m disappointed in her.
“Cleaving” takes up not long after “Julie and Julia” took off big. It seems that in the wake of her success, Julie doesn’t know what to do with herself. She has found success. She has the support of her sweet husband that stood by her with all her craziness with the Julia Project. And yet, she feels lost. Unsatisfied. Unsure what to do now. So what does she do? Starts an affair with a man she knew from college. She becomes completely obsessed with him. She torments her doting husband with all of her deceit and sneaking around. And, she writes about it!
Reading the book made me so uncomfortable. Imagining her husband reading the book, full of stories about the encounters with her lover, stories of how she would sneak to the bathroom to send raunchy text messages, how she bought presents for him while on vacation with her husband, was just painful. How hard it must have been for him to sit down and learn the gory details. It was hard for me, and I am just a bystander.
So, while Julie is all “lost” and obsessed with her affair and unsure about her husband, she decides to learn butchery…. Ok. Kinda random, but not unheard of. However, the only place she can find to teach her is about 2 hours from her home. Fleisher’s butcher shop became her safe haven. It was her retreat where she learned a craft and could focus on it for a few hours each day and not worry about the turmoil of her life. We as the reader learn all about different cuts of meat, where they come from, and how they are taken apart. That section of the book is actually kind of interesting.
Maybe the worst part of the book is how she knew that she was making terrible choices. She acknowledged that the affair was a bad idea. She knew it wasn’t going anywhere, but she just couldn’t shake wanting to be with him. She knew she was hurting her husband, the only one who really understood her, and she kept doing it anyways. It was hard for me to imagine. Impossible to relate to. And impossible for me to feel pity for Julie. All the nights she described in the book where she would get drunk and cry herself to sleep over the mess she was in, over missing her lover and hurting her husband, were meant to make us pity her and I just found myself angry and frustrated. The selfishness. Disregard for those who care for her.
I don’t know. Maybe I am being too harsh on Julie Powell. I had an image of her built up in my head. The image of a very relatable woman. A woman who needed direction and found it. Someone to admire. But it turns out she is just a human, and a really messed up one at that. I’m just so disappointed in her. But how can you be disappointed in someone you don’t actually know? Maybe reading this book was an experience like how she felt at the end of “Julie and Julia” when she learned that Julia Child was dismissive about her project and didn’t like her. She ended up realizing that it didn’t matter that the real life Julia Child wasn’t a fan of hers. What mattered was the version of Julie Child that had accompanied her in her mind through all her adventures. The version that was supportive and helped her find herself.
I’m going to try and forget that I read “Cleaving”. I think it was a mistake of her to write the book. I’m going to stick with the image of Julie Powell in my head that I had before. I would suggest that if anyone else has that image, they avoid “Cleaving” entirely.
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