Wednesday, December 9, 2009

NEW BOOK! Review: Put a cleaver through my head, please.

Julie Powell is an engaging writer. But Julie Powell should never again write about herself.

Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame has written the second installment in her culinary journey, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. Despite the success of her first novel, Julie is still having a crisis of self, this time one that involves an affair with a long-time acquaintance, a person we know only as 'D'. Rather than using food as a means to self-discovery, this time Julie uses food as an escape as she takes on an apprenticeship at a butcher in upstate New York, followed by a meat tour (traveled solo, of course) of Argentina, Ukraine, and Tanzania.

Where do I start with the reasons I wanted to throw this book across the room every 20 or so pages? I'll start with a more literary analysis:

This book had no arc. In Julie & Julia, we knew why she was embarking on the project—bored with dead-end jobs and stuck in a rut, she's trying to spice up her life with a project. In the introduction of Cleaving, Julie tells us she has no idea why she is doing this. What is driving her to become a butcher? She doesn't know, so the reader doesn't know, and we still don't know by the end. The premise seems forced by an editor or publisher as a follow-up to a wildly successful first novel. 

That's all I've got in terms of "literary criticism." Now it's just going to get personal. I don't like Julie Powell. My general rule of life is to not compare an author's works to each other, but I am taking exception to my own rule. I enjoyed Powell's voice in Julie & Julia. She was snarky, sarcastic, and though a bit self-involved, I tended to look past that because I understand the manic emotions that come with a quarter-life crisis. Well now she has taken self-involved to a whole new level. In both books, she goes on and on about her wonderful husband, Eric. They're soulmates, they understand each other, they're practically the same person, yada yada. But she's having an affair with an old friend they both know...for over two years...and Eric knows about it...and she knows he knows but keeps doing it...and he stays with her! Grow some balls, dude! When the affair is finally over and 'D' ignores Julie, she becomes that girl. You know the one—clingy, needy, and whiny as she obsessively stalks him. And I mean literally stalks, sending him emails, texts, and gifts for months after they've ceased reciprocal communication. Everything she sees or hears or experiences somehow reminds her of D, and even a year later, she sends him a letters alongside the ones to Eric as she's traveling across the world. It's been a year! Get over it, because I'm sick of hearing about it. I could care less about cooking, but unlike her last book, I preferred the passages about food this time around.

Julie is brutally honest, and while I usually appreciate that in a memoir, in this case, that may be where I find fault. The most disgusting part of it, to me, is how she is revealing this intimate situation in graphic detail at the expense of the people she supposedly loves...all for a paycheck. These people are real. Everyone that Eric meets in the future can read the gruesome details of his marriage and judge him for his wife's words. He's going to look like a chump because she wanted a book deal. There's honest and then there's just plain cruel. Get over yourself, Julie Powell. Think about how something like this is going to affect other people. You have skill but start writing commentary for something, because I don't care about your train wreck of a life anymore. She does a good job weaving together the different aspects of the story, and some may be able to look past her personality to find the story "real" and entertaining, but the best part of this book to me was the cover art.

And for the love of god, stop with the Buffy quotes and references! As a Buffy aficionado, I am taking offense to the excessive reiteration that you're a fan of a cult show.

Cleaving was released December 1st by Little, Brown and Company.


Salvatore said...

Nice review! Interesting about the book not having an arc and how the people within the memoir now can all be judged, whether or not they wanted to be out in the public sphere. Which still makes me wonder why people would really want to write memoirs in the first place.

ChristinaO said...

I agree that you have to seperate an author's works - except in the case where one book is a continuation of the other - Julie & Julia and Cleaving are just one long memoir so Powell can talk about herself.

After reading Julie & Julia, I find myself disliking her so much that I can't bring myself to read this book. She's just to self absorbed and nasty to warrent sending money her way by purchasing it.

And people write memoirs for precisely the reason so many people don't like Powell - self-absorbtion and the need to be in the spot-light. After Julie & Julia came out, I had a discussion with a friend on the psychology of personal blogging and the inherent narcissim that comes with it - Julie & Julia reads like one long blog entry - between the two books, I think it's easy to see her as someone who doesn't care about the repurcussions brought about by oversharing details of her life that heavily effect other people like Eric.

Jenny said...

Great review! I don't plan on reading the first book, though I do want to see the movie. This book didn't at all interest me though.

colin said...

That's why I don't read memoirs. Except BORN STANDING UP. That one was quite good.

And Buffy is sacred. I don't want this Julie character to sully her angelic image.

Kari said...

Christina - See, normally I like memoirs! But I think I usually read memoirs that reflect on some historical period. I like reading about a life and a time, and most of the memoirs I've read were written more like fiction and less self-indulgence, illustrating a lifestyle that has been influenced or defined by its environment, capturing a tone or feeling instead of self-involved whining.

Colin - Buffy is my hero.

J.T. Oldfield said...

Yeah, had no inclination to read the first on or this one. Thanks for affirming that I wasn't just trying to not be mainstream, and what I perceived was there (or wasn't) was (or wasn't).

Do you get what I'm saying?

Also, I totally <3 Buffy. I've actually put some of the graphic novels on my challenge lists for next year.

softdrink said...

Oh my...this just sounds wrong on so many levels. I'm surprised her husband is still around! I hadn't even heard of this book, and now I'm hoping I never hear of it again.

Amy said...

Great review, Kari. My feelings exactly. Thanks for stopping by my blog!!!

Life by Candlelight

MZF said...

Thanks for the review and de-cluttering another bad book from my list of to-reads. Right on all counts.