Tuesday, February 02, 2010

CLEAVING by Julie Powell

I believe that I was in the minority of readers who did not enjoy Julie and Julia. I liked the premise but Julie Powell often came off as whiny, self-centered and grating.  The movie version offered just the right amount of editing to provide a fully-satisfying experience. And Meryl Streep was wonderful.  So, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I picked up CLEAVING.  Curiousity got the better of me.

It is now several years after Powell's success with her first memoir and her life is anything but rosy. In the flush of her newfound fame, Powell runs across an old lover known as "D" and enters into an affair with him.  An affair that her husband learns of and continues to stay by her side while retaliating with his own affair.  This state of affairs continues for several years until Julie decides she needs to embark on a new experiment in order to find herself. She becomes an apprentice butcher and uses the experience as a cathartic outlet and escape.

It is incredibly hard to accept the fact that Powell's husband would knowingly accept her infidelity for years while sticking with her. Much of the book is Powell's attempt to justify her behavior as a type of obsession or mental illness that she cannot control. She cleverly weaves in her experiences at the butcher shop and contrasts it with her disastrous personal life.  When "D" finally ends the affair, Powell collapses into a messy heap and pines for him. Even resorting to stalking. The last section of the book is Powell's attempt at an EAT, PRAY, LOVE scenario where she travels the world to famous "meat" destinations including Ukraine and Africa.

One thing I appreciate about Julie Powell is her unflinching honesty. She presents herself warts and all. That is a difficult and scary thing to do.  But the book often feels as if it is one long justification for her behavior. Much of her butchery exploits are interesting but they just as quickly become boring and I found myself skimming much of those sections. Powell never really arrives at any sort of resolution and one wonders what her next memoir gimmick will be.

BOTTOM LINE:  Not recommended. While this is a brutally honest depiction of the effects of infidelity on a marriage, it felt really self-indulgent.  I have never found Powell to be particularly likeable although, according to her memoirs, everyone else seems to. If you really liked Powell in her first book, you will probably find this book interesting and revealing. If you weren't charmed by Powell in JULIE AND JULIA, you certainly won't be now.


Bookfool said...

I read an interview with Amy Adams in which she said she was distressed to find that "there were indiscretions" in this author's marriage. I loved the way she put that. I still haven't read Julie and Julia, although I plan to. But, it sounds like everyone loves the movie more than the book! I'll avoid Cleaving. I don't understand infidelity at all.

KnittingReader said...

That's funny: I'm one of the few people I know who liked J&J. I think it might be because it was one of the few books I read while studying for the bar exam. However, I don't have any desire to read Cleaving.

I need to stop by Through the Wardrobe!

Kari said...

I liked J&J, despite her being a bit whiny and self-involved. It seemed to make more sense with her quarter-life crisis, so I guess I forgave her a bit for it. But I DESPISED this book. Her writing's the same, but now I hate her as a person. I'm glad you weren't charmed by her honesty, as I gave it a scathing review as well!

Amy said...

Kari--You are so right. I think what passed for semi-charming self-deprecation and looniness in the first book absolutely did not translate in this one. It seems amazing that she can try to justify her behavior. I'd love to read your review!!!