Reading: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell
ISBN 978-0-316-00336-0
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group
December 2009

When I first saw the book cover for Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, I thought it was perfect. There’s a silhouette of a pig (red on yellow) framed by aquamarine blue. It has a retro look. The pig reminds me of one of my favorite barbecue joints on Greenville Avenue in Dallas (Baker’s Ribs). And then there’s the word “Cleaving.” Of course I thought of Beaver Cleaver, then of a meat cleaver. That word sort of creeps me out. I really enjoyed Julie Powell‘s first book, Julie and Julia, as well as the movie version. You can see my posting about the movie here.

Before reading, I knew Cleaving was about what Julie Powell decided to do next in her life after the hype died down about Julie and Julia and her year-long make every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She decided to become an apprentice butcher. But I didn’t know the gory details–and they could get detailed, and gory.

Here is how I found the book to be organized: Julie talks about her marriage and her obsessive affair with a guy named D, interspersed with the intricacies of her butchering apprenticeship in upstate New York. This takes up about half the book. The next quarter is about how Julie copes with her lover having dumped her, along with more talk of her marriage. The last quarter is what I named the Julie Powell version of Eat, Pray, Love. Julie goes on a trip to Argentina, Ukraine, and Tanzania. She went to cattle auctions, farms, meat-packing plants, restaurants, private homes, and the Ngorongoro Crater. Why? She wanted to learn about the meat and butchering profession all over the world, and wanted to avoid confrontation with her husband, Eric. She wasn’t ready to resume her married life post affair.

An extraordinary long time was taken by me to read Cleaving. I was reading a novel at the same time and I couldn’t rush through Cleaving like I can with many other books. I enjoyed the introspection of Ms. Powell regarding her relationships and I detested all of the butchery detail she provided. I am a carnivore, always have been, and probably always will be, but I have no interest in the anatomy of cows, goats, and other mammals we eat and how their bones, tendons, and sinews are connected. But I did enjoy the occasional recipe provided. I also enjoyed the parts of the book when Ms. Powell was at the butcher shop, mainly because of the interesting people who owned the shop (a former vegan) and the people that worked at Fleisher’s.

This book was a little off-putting and made for some uncomfortable reading material. I mean, who but Ms. Powell would write so openly about her affair and how wonderful it all was until she got dumped, then on the same page write about how she and her husband are meant for each other and how their minds think alike? By the way, Eric, the husband, was/is having his own affair, too. And nothing is resolved, in case you were wondering.

I will read any book Mr. Powell writes, mainly because I admire greatly her complete honesty and also because she can be really funny. Ms. Powell is unique and I really am rooting for her marriage to survive in the long run, but I have my doubts.

  11 comments for “Reading: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession

  1. January 31, 2010 at 1:06 AM

    You have a much higher opinion of the book than I do (but that’s ok!). Looking at the book as a book (and analyzing the technique of the author) is different than judging the writer for what’s in the book.

    You looked at the book as a book but on the other hand I can’t see past the distasteful stuff in it.

    Eric’s affair, by the way, was in response to hers. And throughout the book she treats him far more shabbily than he deserves. Her cruelty is stunning.

    Absolutely stunning cruelty.

  2. January 31, 2010 at 7:35 AM

    Jody, thanks for the comments. I agree with you in that Julie Powell has treated her husband like crap.

    I guess he has his reasons for continuing to be married to her. But I do like her writing and I do like her honesty. I wrote my piece before reading much else about the book on purpose. One of the many reviews I read talked about the fact that she was positive and happy and glowing when she wrote about D, but was extremely negative and subdued whenever she wrote about Eric.

    Apparently, now neither one of them are in the midst of an affair and Ms. Powell is working on a novel.

    Thanks for realizing I was trying not to judge and just focus on the

  3. January 31, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    Yea, it’s a mystery why he stuck around through all that.

    And I envy you being able to separate her writing from her actions – I couldn’t and it made the whole experience of reading the book very uncomfortable, to say the least.

  4. February 2, 2010 at 2:20 PM

    I like that she was willing to come across as unlikeable and totally nothing like her movie persona. That takes courage!

  5. February 2, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    I gotta admit when I heard about the subject matter of this book I kind of dropped an f bomb or two. I mean I loved Julie and Julia but I came away feeling Julie wasn’t such a great character, and I was like oh ok, ya know, creative direction, and then this book comes out. I mean what is the next going to be, “How I gave my husband the clap and never told him” I don’t think I could make it through this book without throwing it through a window or two. But I don’t want to judge =)

  6. February 2, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    Thanks for the comment, Boomka. Your blog is funny . . .

  7. February 2, 2010 at 4:22 PM


    You are so right about how she has courage. Courage to be a butcher, courage to travel around the world by herself, and courage to expose herself to criticism . . .

  8. February 3, 2010 at 2:24 AM

    hmmm, i think i’ll skip this one. one, i’m at the point where meat is not as appealing to me as it once was and i could become a vegetarian easily… this might put me over the line. two, i’m kinda sick of hearing about infidelity. so many public figures on the news lately. friends with issues. i certainly don’t want to read about someone flaunting (does that apply here?) it.

  9. February 3, 2010 at 2:38 AM

    I don’t think you will be missing anything critical by skipping out on this one, Pam. I think it took me so long to read because I dreaded the detail on the butchering parts and it really is not a pleasant story all around. Maybe the novel she is working on will be better.

  10. February 3, 2010 at 2:48 AM

    I really don’t have a high opinion of Cleaving, I just admire Julie Powell for her honesty. I think it is terrible that she writes about her affair in the manner she does, but I think she is a good writer.

    And another thing, she wrote about “D” for most of the novel, and then named him as “Damian” near the end. I thought that was bizarre and didn’t see the point. It just made me think of The Omen and the devil . . .

  11. February 23, 2010 at 1:47 AM

    I’m listening to this one on CD now and parts are very difficult to listen to – hearing about her relationship with D. and almost every minute of Tanzania! I’m such a baby – I kept thinking, “Her parents are reading this!” as she discussed all her indiscretions. But I am still listening because it is, warts and all, an interesting story.

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