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Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession (Julie Powell)

Friday March 19, 2010

Awkward.  Painful.  Embarrassing.  These are the words that most immediately come to mind in response to my most recent date with Julie Powell.

But, let me back up a bit.  We really should start from the beginning.

In the beginning, there was reluctance.  Sometime last summer it seemed that everyone was reading Julie & Julia.  You couldn’t walk through the most pathetic grocery store in town without seeing its cover beckoning from the racks.  The book was everywhere, there was talk of a movie.  I was staying out of it.  Why?  Well, because I have a snooty disregard for the bestseller.  If “the American public” was eating this book up with a spoon, well then I was full.

Of course eventually the inevitable happened.   I heard enough glowing reports from people I actually knew that when a copy turned up at my favorite used book store, I made the purchase.  Unfortunately I was so late to the party that it was the movie paperback edition, but I enjoyed the story.  The project, the obsessiveness, the poor housekeeping.  I was in.  Julie felt familiar to me.  I could relate to her and I was inspired by her success.  In fact, I even saw the  movie.  Not in the theaters, but shortly after it went to DVD.  My wife fell asleep before Meryl Streep even appeared on the screen, but I made it through the whole thing and was quite glad I did.

And then there was Cleaving.  Long before my name came up on the library wait list, the buzz began and the buzz was bad.  All of the news seemed to suggest that Julie Powell had run off the rails.  Gone a tad too far.  Of course, by this time I was in and when I’m in, I’m hard to shake.  So, I put my name on the list and waited patiently.

Last week, my name came up.  I wish it hadn’t.  Reading this book felt like stumbling on the drunken diary of a friend and making the decision to settle in and read the whole thing.  A decision you would be sure to later regret.  It is not so much the startling lack of restraint in this book that makes it so alarming, but rather the fact that all of this over-sharing leads to neither insight nor resolution.  At the end, I am left with a deeper understanding only of butchering technique, a topic I never really wanted to understand.

In spite of the bad reviews, I held out hope for the story because I have my own struggles with knowing exactly where the line of appropriateness actually lies and I’m pretty brave in the face of TMI.  Relationships are hard and bad things happen, it’s true.  It’s also true that sharing the story can be redemptive.  But sometimes, it’s just sharing for the sake of it.  And that is the purview of a good friend, not the reading public.

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