Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession is Julie Powell’s follow up to Julie & Julia which you may remember because it was made into a movie. I read Julie & Julia several months ago and enjoyed the book. It was kind of funny, an interesting story and slightly relatable although it did have several dry spells. I did not, however, like the movie. The movie was far too focused on Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and I could not listen to her voice. It was like nails on a chalk board…just terrible.
About a month ago I heard about Cleaving which actually came out is 2009 (obviously I don’t keep up with book releases). What I heard, though, made me not want to read it. Basically, I was told it was Julie Powell’s story of becoming a butcher and cheating on her husband. It just sounded wrong. Thanks to the movie, she’s fairly well known and now she’s going to write a book detailing her affair? It seemed utterly tasteless to me.
Then I was in the library looking for books to take with me on vacation and there it was on the shelf. I picked it up, curious to read a little bit to see if she was the tramp I had convinced myself she was. I started to read and to my surprise, I wasn’t completely turned off so, I added it to my stack of books.
In part one, Julie details her route to learning about butchery. After her cooking journey, she really wants to learn about this dying art and starts a quest to find someone who will teach her. She runs into many roadblocks along the way from the lack of true butchers to the butchers lack of work for her. She finally ends up at Fleisher’s in Kingston, NY where they offer her an apprenticeship. Fleisher’s is owned by a husband and wife and they seem like fun people to work for. Julie relays stories from learning about cutting down a side of beef to joking around and acting like “one of the guys” at the shop.
Although part one introduces you to her affair with “D” it doesn’t overwhelm the story of her time at Fleisher’s. When she does write about her affair she seems desperate, pathetic, lonely, confused and like a complete asshole. It’s unfortunate and it is hard to relate to her or feel bad for her because I can’t imagine ever being in that situation. If everything she wrote is true, though, I will give her this, she has a lot of balls to write what she did. At times, she shares to the point that it’s almost uncomfortable to read.
Part two is the part that I was actually looking forward to reading. Part of Julie’s journey into the work of butchery was taking trips to unique places where meat is a part of life. She travels to Buenos Aires, a small town outside of Kiev and Tanzania. This turns out to be the most boring part of the book.
While I do appreciate the descriptions of her travels, she is less detailed in her writing about them. Now when she writes about her continuing struggle to be accepted by her former lover, it really stands out and grates on your nerves. It seems even more pathetic and disgusting that it did before and also, even more sad. Part two is a fifth of the length of part one and it was wholly disappointing except for the ending which I appreciated. Not the actual fact that it ended but, the end of the story. In case you want to read the book, I won’t ruin it for you.
Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession turned out to be a better book that I had thought it would be. I would recommend it as an easy read. It’s not going to put your brain to work with a complicated story but, some of the butchery information is interesting and the story, overall, isn’t bad. Hopefully they don’t make a movie out of this one.