Book Review: Cleaving

Book Review: Cleaving

Cleaving book

I can’ t believe I actually listened to all of this horrible new book by Julie Powell. The subtitle is Marriage, Meat and Obsession, but it would be more aptly subtitled Butchery, Adultery, and Self-Loathing.

I had liked both the book and the movie Julie and Julia, having read the book early on before it was famous. After seeing the movie, I was worried about how Julie was handling her meteoric rise. Now I see why. She’s made a mess of things, and it is only because I honor her brutal honesty, and the genuine voice she writes with (that unfortunately rings much more authentic than her previous well-varnished other book) that I give this book the generous rank of two stars. But the content goes from bad to worse. It is hard to be a house divided against itself, but also difficult to stand by and watch one wobble.

Julie unashamedly and unremorsefully cheats on her sweet husband, in way too much detail. (There is such a thing as too much information!) She’s discovered she likes the rough and tumble, you know, sex with slapping, tying and biting, and she can’t get enough of it. And this book easily had more profanity in it than anything else I’ve ever read. This author, who’s facile command of an erudite vocabulary I really appreciate and enjoy, in this book lets expletives rip with equal fluidity. I guess that repeated f-word best describes her preoccupation, and the point of what she’s either going for or has done to herself. And if she’s not screwing her life up enough, she’s drinking two bottles of wine every evening, and taking up the not-so-sexy habit of smoking.

The sub-theme of her new pursuit of butchery might be interesting to some. It is a dying art after all, with the enormous undercover meat packing houses removing it all from our eyes. Julie, blatantly thrusts it back in full view, also with detailed description and explicit thoroughness. Gone is the squeamish Julia who had trouble boiling a lobster or roasting a duck. She enjoys the machismo of sawing animals apart and brags of bravado when scooping out pig’s brains. But watching her butcher those animals, as gruesome as it is, isn’t half as hard as watching her metaphorically butcher her own life. However, she does prove she’s no food wuss, giving personally cut out liver as sensual valentines.

But she also proves that she’s foolishly lost, right when life should have been going amazingly right for her. I kept wondering what this book would be like if we didn’t know her differently before, but then I wouldn’t have read it, and it probably wouldn’t have been published, so I guess that answers that question. As a study in self-sabotage, this book may be genius. Clearly this is all too easy (and painfully unnecessary) to fall in to, and my professional interest in why people might not think they deserve better holds me with this sad tale until the end.

And the metaphor of pathetic cleaving is brilliant, and keeps me thinking about it. With it’s dual meaning of severing and clinging, the title is like the twine that ties the whole crown roast together. It is how she feels about both her men and butchering. And ironically, it is how we are made to feel about her as well: on the one hand we still for some fruitless reason care, but on the other hand we are totally done.

The audio of this book is read by the author, who sounds either like she is crying or about to, which adds to the pathetic authenticity of the book. You really do believe that this is the shambles she’s made of her life because you feel the truth of it, with all it’s incumbent hurt and bewilderment, present in her voice.

Her parents don’t plan to read this aching tell-all book, and maybe you shouldn’t either. I would have rather left Julie in the triumphant place the movie leaves her, on top of her game, with all sorts of wideningly wonderful opportunities before her. And I wish she would have explored those instead.

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