Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 1:16 p.m.
Julie Powell rocketed to fame with Julie and Julia, her blog-then-book-then-blockbuster movie adaptation starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.
Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession is her second work of non-fiction and I think it's safe to say that Amy Adams will not be starring in the movie version of this book.
Cleaving is essentially about two things -- the strain and disintegration of Julie Powell's marriage. And second, about her apprenticeship at a family-owned butcher shop in upstate New York.
The title spells out the principle metaphor of the book. Cleaving has a couple of meanings. To cleave can mean to adhere closely; to stick or cling. But it can also mean to split or divide.
So, in short, it can mean either to stick or split. Which is pretty much what Powell is trying to decide throughout the length of the narrative.
Powell's marriage is falling apart -- largely through her choice to have a protracted affair. One that is obsessive and seemingly irresistible to her, and one that her beleaguered husband is aware of.
The chapters dedicated to the goings on at the butcher shop -- her comrades in the breaking down of sides of beef and pig carcasses, her struggle to learn the technicalities of butchery -- these were my favorites. I am not squeamish but the descriptions are graphic, even disgusting, and not for the faint of heart. That the butcher shop is Julie's place of solace speaks to how off-kilter her life has become.
The chapters on her affair were harder to swallow. I found myself frustrated by her readiness to safeguard her lover's privacy (he is referred to only by an initial throughout the first 4/5th of the book) while her husband is not afforded this same consideration.
I'm going to warn you that Powell can come off as very blasé about her marriage. It's going to put a lot of people off, particularly those that championed for her in Julie and Julia.
I admired her willingness and honesty to show all the unsavory bits, but I'm not sure it was enough. Sometimes TMI is just that - TMI.
If Julie and Julia was a nice beautifully braised pork shoulder then Cleaving is more like the bloody entrails of a meal yet to come.