Fans of Julie and Julia are typically very forgiving of the flawed, struggling Powell because they identify on some level with attaching oneself to an endeavor in order to define oneself, to strive to become something bigger or better than one's current self. Fans also tend to be Julia Child lovers who fancy the idea of cooking their way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking themselves. The cookbook itself becomes the focal point around which the memoir revolves. The quest is finite and is successfully resolved by book's end.
Cleaving, however, ostensibly has a focal point in Powell's quest to learn the skills of butchery during a six month apprenticeship, but is in fact, about many unconnected things of which most readers will have little interest or sympathy.
All but one reader among us this morning confessed to skimming through the butchering sections of the book as they approached midpoint. These passages were lengthy, mostly tedious explanations of various butchering tasks and cuts of meat. Passages that are so flatly delivered, so passionless that one has to wonder why Powell has decided to dedicate herself to acquiring this new skill. And she never really explains. At least as not as clearly as she details an inexplicable new insight into the character and motivations of Jack the Ripper. Really. Don't ask.
Powell spends an enormous amount of time making the reader privy to the loathsome details of her disintegrating marriage, their mutual extramarital affairs, the stalking of her ex-lover, her descent into near-alcoholism, her attraction to various forms of self-degradation (I could go on but am feeling irritated again just writing this). By the time she embarks on her Elizabeth Gilbert-esque travels to experience butchering about the globe, one is likely to be wondering where the hell her editor was. What is this book about? Self-indulgence and possible mental illness is all my book group could see by the (blessed) end.
The kicker for this group of women more than ready for a little girlfriend talk when we picked up the book? She ripped off the whole name reveal of Big from the final episode of Sex in the City when she reveals the name of her lover at the end. Look Julie, we will read your lackluster latest endeavor to the final page, but don't steal from one of our favorite shows. Unforgiveable.
Sad. Not especially well-written. Reads like a person struggling for an encore after a successful debut. Reads like the babbling of a lost narcissist. One group member commented, "I just wanted to throw the book across my apartment when I finished." Another commented, "I am not sure why I kept reading other than the fascination of watching her building burn." I think you get the idea.
That said, if anyone would like to give it a chance themselves, some members of our group returned their copies to me to give away here. First five who think they might be able to make it through without actually taking a cleaver to the book claim the prizes. Just email me your shipping address after commenting. And know that you have been warned.Thanks to the good people at Hachette who provided the copies. I wish I could reward their generosity with kinder words here.