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Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child,
This review is from: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child (Hardcover)
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The most revealing remark in Bob Spitz's new biography of Julia Child comes tucked away in the "Sources and Acknowledgments" section at the very end. Describing the admiration he felt after time spent with the celebrity cook in Sicily in 1992, he writes, "If I have to admit to one prejudice confronting this book, it is that I had a powerful crush on her. Sorry. Deal with it." Spitz's lighthearted aside reflects the deeper truth that his is not a particularly penetrating approach to biography. The mildly worshipful tone of the subtitle's reference to Child's "remarkable life" permeates the book, and traits that a different biographer might have investigated more closely-- the rapid, unapologetic decision-making that sometimes verged on ruthlessness, the seemingly easy acceptance of everything life threw at her-- are passed over. With the exception of a single, poisonously bitter rival, no one ever has anything bad to say about the woman. But that is probably just as well. Not many readers will come to a biography of Julia Child looking for intense psychological insight or its poor relation, gossip. What most will want is simply the story behind a charming icon of American cooking, and that, frequent stylistic bumps in the road aside, is what Spitz delivers.
The defining fact of Child's life prior to her rise to fame is that she came from money. From her childhood home in Pasadena to college at Smith to work for the OSS in Washington D. C. and such overseas postings, both hers and her husband's, as Ceylon, China, and Paris, she moved through a series of glamorous locales, described, sometimes to excess, by Spitz, that were full of famous and influential people. So accustomed to world travel was she that her husband's posting to insufficiently glamorous Germany (which admittedly brought back memories of the then-recent war) was a burden rather than an opportunity. Wealth and prestige also allowed Julia McWilliams to drift through much of the first half of her life, developing no particular interests or skills at college, lucking into a high-profile but essentially menial government job based principally on class and connections, then becoming a government wife after meeting and marrying Paul Child. What changed everything, and allowed her to channel and reveal her extraordinary drive and talent, was of course her discovery of French cooking.
Where Spitz's book shines is in his clear explanation of just how revolutionary Child's first cookbook was, and how the meticulous instructions that have made it invaluable to generations of curious Americans were the product of seemingly-endless diligent experimentation by Child and her co-authors, who wanted to find the perfect recipes, to know and to describe exactly what should be done to avoid common mishaps in turning those recipes into perfect meals. The flipside of that desire to demystify was the relaxed, mildly eccentric persona Child presented to the camera in her various television series, which Spitz captures in print in a way that will send many readers (even those who, like some of her original viewers, are uninterested in cooking) looking for clips. Without quite romanticizing his subject, who for all her endearing enthusiasm and vigor was not much of a sentimentalist, Spitz shows the relationship between that persona and the vivacious, larger-than-life individual behind it.
The drawback is that he does so in truly tortured prose. Stilted colloquialism abounds. Words and idioms are misused or used oddly. No cliche is left unturned. Repetitions evidently meant to be emphatic are misplaced, distracting. At times the voice comes to feel like a parody of the narration from VH1's BEHIND THE MUSIC: "It was the kind of stretch she'd been craving, needing all her life. And just when she felt she was easing into the groove, everything was about to get stretchier. And groovier." A little of this sort of thing can be overlooked, but there are examples of it on virtually every one of the book's 535 pages. If there were a drinking game that required chugging whenever Bob Spitz used awkward language, you'd die of alcohol poisoning before finishing a chapter. it's definitely distracting, but not distraction enough to ruin the book, which is carefully paced and keeps the basic story involving via well-chosen details and interview quotes. Trying to cover for some accidentally over-browned bread made to accompany her French onion soup, Child once informed the TV audience that "it gives good effect" and doggedly dug through to the still-delicious soup. DEARIE is like that. The prose gives "good" effect, but underneath it is a diverting life story, enthusiastically and skillfully told.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 18, 2012 4:18:35 AM PDT
Linda M. says:
I am only on page 75 so far, and am finding the quality of the writing quite difficult to deal with, so don't know if I will finish the book or not. It reads as of he was trying to be witty, or sensationalist, and it makes it difficult to follow the thread of meaning. I wish Spitz had had a good editor, as this could be a good book.
Posted on Sep 24, 2012 10:10:35 PM PDT
Alexis D. Valk says:
I agree so much with this review, I am not going to write my own review. I will only add that I found the sentence fragments really annoying, and, as Linda stated, I wish he had a good editor. That's my only serious gripe with the book. Other than that, I enjoyed it immensely.
Posted on May 31, 2013 12:03:35 PM PDT
K. Miller says:
I agree. I thought the book full of very interesting information but the way it was written made it rather tedious at times to get through.
Posted on Feb 21, 2014 6:29:00 AM PST
I am listening to the book in its audio version. The narrator is wonderful, and in the spoken word the language wasn't distracting me at all and I was quite enjoying the story, but now that it's been pointed out I can't not think about how awkward some of the phrases would be in print. I also found the book improved as it progressed, don't give up on it!
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