Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group
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.