Julie Powell, fresh from Julie and Julia fame, has gone from the kitchen to the butcher shop. Unfortunately, Cleaving: A Story of Meat, Marriage, and Obsession is a sort of self-sponsored hatchet job on Powell’s personal life and, if I may, narrative skill. And the hatchet is dull.
To her credit, Powell assembled the raw materials of delicious nonfiction. She found the setting, an upstate New York “hippie butchery” that she periodically forgets is magical, and a cast of slightly caricatured but charmingly rendered co-workers. The scenes at Fleisher’s are warm, visceral, and engaging – her descriptions of a turkey roulette, cutting through boars’ heads, and, yes, even a pig slaughter, warranted repeat reads. This is a red-blooded woman, and her passion for the product and labor of butchery made for some delicious reading.
Yes, Powell can certainly write about meat. Unfortunately, she writes about all the meat, including that of her ever-suffering husband, Eric, and her mostly-off-again affair partner, D. In a book that encompasses recipes with items like “behead animals; soak in brine,” it may be a surprise that the most cringe-worthy moments address Powell’s personal life. Consider this unsavory triumvirate: her husband knows that she is having the affair; D, short for douche bag, dumps the author partway through and displays little to no personality; and Powell details every pitiful, pink-wine-soaked voicemail she leaves in an attempt to win back this ever-charming man.
There’s something to be said for honesty in memoir, but when you are honestly a self-pitying, married woman with a job (okay, unpaid internship) you don’t hate, and you’re still behaving in an embarrassingly adolescent, self-destructive manner, it’s time to stop pouring more ink into the wound. It’s just time to stop, period.
Powell’s strongest moments occur in the kitchen or the cutting room, a place where her hands are too busy to get her into trouble, her mind is focused on a novel, visceral task, and her companions fall into a natural rhythms of conversation. Whether she’s detailing her family’s reactions to her Christmas-dinner crown-roast or breaking down an entire cow side, these are the choice cuts of Powell’s prose. If only there had been larger portions…
Check out our review of Julie Powell’s first memoir, Julie and Julia.
Lauren has always been a voracious, though somewhat indiscriminate, reader. Professionally, she’s run the gamut from bartender to teacher to legal assistant, but she’s published a few articles in Ohio, Montana, Vermont, and Argentina.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Hachette Book Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.