Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: "Cleaving" by Julie Powell

Julie Powell, author of the bestseller Julie and Julia is back, and this time she's trying her hand at.....butchering? After writing her book and changing her life path, Julie identifies a yearning within herself to try her hand at becoming a butcher and sets out to find somewhere that will hire her on as an unpaid apprentice. She finds Fleisher's, a small butcher shop that feels like home and quickly sets to work learning her new trade. As she learns how to make headcheese and cut racks of ribs, she deals with the affairs of her heart. You see, she's torn between wanting to be with her sweet, reliable husband, Eric, and with her exciting lover, D. (who, by the way, Eric is aware of). Julie spends the book learning about meat and trying to make sense of the path that her romantic life has taken.

I just did not love Cleaving. I tried, I honestly did, and I continued to read this long after I wanted to stop. Right away the tone of the book came off as indulgent to me, it was all "Julie this", and "Julie that". Of course, this book is a memoir, so it had to be about Julie, but she just struck me as being so darn selfish all of the time!

Let me try to explain why I felt this way, as I'm not in the habit of cutting up books without some reasoning to back me up. First of all, the fact that this book was about raw meat did not turn me off at all, although I'm sure that it would be too much for some. I grew up on a large chicken farm, and the chickens were being raised and killed expressly to provide the raw chicken that you see in the grocery store. This was how I was raised- certain animals are raised solely to provide meat for human consumption, and that is just the way that is. As a teenager I worked at a local butcher shop. Although I did not butcher the meat myself, it was done on premises, so again, no squeamishness for me. I suppose the reason that I really did not like this book was because in no way could I identify with the author. She's married to a pretty great guy, who loves her and encourages her and puts up with her hissy fits, and she risks it all to have wild sex with D., someone that they both knew in college. Eric finds out about it. They try to seperate for a bit, but end up living under the same roof again. Eric takes his own lover. Julie breaks up with hers, but never stops wanting him. She proceeds to go out and have sex with strangers just to try to feel closer to D. Although they discuss seperation or marriage counselling, neither Julie nor Eric seem to try to work on their marriage, yet they see little reason to offically divorce. I can tell you right now that this kind of thing would not work for me, nor could I relate to how she felt. It just seemed so farcical to me, like "you can have your cake and eat it too".

There were a few positive bits of the book for me. Fleisher's, the butcher shop where Julie apprentices seems like a pretty great place, and the people who work there appear to be warm and caring. Also, Julie's trips at the end of the book to learn more about meat are interesting for an armchair traveller such as myself. Other than those brief shining parts, I would give this book a miss. I'm not sure why I was initially so determined to read this one, but now I wish that I would have given it a miss and focused instead on reading something that I would have enjoyed more. Luckily, this wasn't my copy (it belongs to the library), so I can just give it back now.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Recommended to: Aspiring butchers
Challenges: 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, 2010 Support Your Local Library Challenge


  1. I hope I like it better than you... I'm still going to read it. Many people disliked Julie & Julia, and I loved it... so this is on my shelf and still to be read.

  2. Most of the reviews I've seen are similar to yours. I started Julie & Julia but could get past page 60 or so. Julie just doesn't come across as likable, at least not to me.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  3. I still have Julie and Julia sitting on my shelf unread, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought the idea behind Cleaving sounded...forced.

  4. Uh-oh. You are the second person whose taste I trust to say this isn't worth it. Is it any surprise I already have it though? ::sigh::