This year's first
Last night, I finished my first book of the new year. OK, I started it last week, but it's still the first book of 2010. I just loved Julie & Julia by Julie Powell, so I had to check out her new book Cleaving: A Story of Meat, Marriage and Obsession. It's a strong follow up to a damn good first book, and it continues on with the themes of food, self-discovery and marriage. One of the things I really enjoy about Powell's writing is her willingness to present herself in a much less than flattering light. In Julie & Julia, her tale showed her as quirky and obsessive, sometimes a bit over the top. It was endearing in the book and cute in the movie.
In Cleaving, I got the impression that Powell could be a real piece of work, but one definitely worth knowing and enjoying. This book begins after Julie & Julia has made her a success. In it, she's pursuing an apprenticeship in a charming hippie run butcher shop. It follows her learning curve as she learns how to break down sides of meat into the cuts we carnivores enjoy. It's honest and descriptive without being unnecessarily gory, even though it does describe the entire process of a living animal becoming dinner. At the same time, she's describing an affair she had, its effects on the marriage that seemed so perfect in her first book, how the end of the affair affected her, a journey across the world, its different meats and what she found in herself. She gives the same careful, unflinching eye to her infidelity and marriage as she gives to the skill and craft of preparing meat.
This book just isn't as easy as Julie & Julia. It contains a good share of tears, and the story of a woman with a good marriage committing adultery and finding a taste for rougher sex can be just uncomfortable sometimes. I'm sure living it was even more so. As a reader, I just didn't want that to have happened. I wanted the character Julie to be easily, seamlessly married, but Powell is basically an autobiographer. Life is more complicated and richer than fiction, and Powell shows that well. The elements that inspired me so in Julie & Julia, finding a passion and becoming more sure and confident in one's self, carry on in this book. It just shows some of the darker aspects of the journey, and they're important as well.
I can't see Cleaving becoming a movie. Separating meat from bone just doesn't create as sexy an image as magnificent food coming out of an oven. Two people hurting each other while they love each other isn't as warm and fuzzy as being encouraging and supportive. It's just not Hollywood, but it's a good read that I highly recommend.
Coincidentally, a couple of days before I finished the book, a good friend gave me a roast, some beef liver and hamburger. Her father raised the Black Angus cattle they came from. It's organic, free range, grass and grain fed, top of the line beef. (Do I have good friends or what?) After Cleaving, I appreciate it even more, and I'm look forward to using Powell's recipe for liver.
I've started my second book of the year. It's Swallowing Darkness by Laurell K. Hamilton. I plan on writing about it as well.
Labels: book review