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Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession Hardcover – December 1, 2009

2.2 out of 5 stars 195 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Powell flounders in her latest cooking-themed memoir. Trying to end an affair, the married Powell leaves town and seeks distraction in a butcher shop. She explores her obsessions with meat and with her lover—but listeners will quickly tune out. Her sarcastic inflections, flat tone, and nervous voice that worked reasonably well with Julie and Julia sound supercilious and affected here. The clunky performance cannot redeem the uninspired prose, and Powell—who compulsively cheats on her saintly husband—is difficult to empathize with. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist

The author of the charming, riveting, thrilling—and successfully filmed—Julie and Julia (2005), in which Powell recounted her year spent cooking all the recipes in Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, has turned to butchery! As she relays in her new memoir, after her “year with Julia,” she apprenticed in a butcher shop in upstate New York and learned the trade from the inside out, from sinew to steak. Another prominent theme here is the stress placed on her marriage to the understanding, even noble Eric (as he was depicted in the previous memoir) by their mutual infidelities. It’s a grim book. Powell’s fans happily voyaged with her through Julia Child’s cookbook, but taking the journey through her learning the “art” of butchery is another matter. Graphic, even gross, detail about “breaking down” a beef or pig carcass and about her adulterous sex life (Do we really want to hear about her phone sex with her lover?) blocks any sunshine from emerging from these pages. The previous book made “foodies” of us all, but this book may convince us that vegetarians have had the right idea all along. --Brad Hooper
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (December 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316003360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316003360
  • ASIN: 0316003360
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,338,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Craig Kenneth Bryant on December 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Julie Powell tries in her second book to show the world that she has an important voice of her own--that she can do more than ride on the coat-tails of greater talents that have gone before her. So it is a far from encouraging sign that she starts by stealing a title--double entendre and all--from another memoir published not ten years earlier ("Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage," by Dennis and Vicki Covington).

Perhaps she has a better claim to the pun, as she alternates vignettes of apprenticing at a butcher shop and the near-destruction of her marriage. But what is the point of all these boudoir to abattoir smash cuts? They lose their shock value fast. If she has some spark of an idea about meat being meat, or butchery resonating with infidelity, it is nothing more than a spark: gone in an instant, yielding neither light nor heat. Nothing connects the disjointed elements of the book except that they all happened to the author. As Churchill is supposed to have said, "This pudding has no theme." The education of a butcher, the confessions of an adulterer, the bizarre lurch into travel writing late in the book...nothing binds it together into an appetizing whole. You'd think she'd have gotten the point of stews after making all that Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin in the last book.

Oh, and the recipes, randomly strewn in there because...well, why not, I guess. We had pork chops that night so here's a recipe for them. It makes no more sense than anything else in here, but at least it makes no less. (To see this kind of thing done right, try John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure.")

The details of the craft of butchery--reducing things that are still recognizably animals into those lovely steaks and roasts and so forth--are interesting.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are someone who believes in the sanctity of marriage, of civility, or even in simply basic respect for other human beings, this is NOT the book for you.

Throughout the book, Powell is consistently despicable. I know that's harsh, but it's true. Julie Powell cheats on her husband: first in college before they're married, then again, and again, and again during their marriage. She returns to her husband, promising fidelity, only after her situation forces her to return - and she has no intention of honoring her promise of fidelity. She only stops seeing her boyfriend when HE breaks it off, and even then she (by her own admission) stalks him for several months. I'm not a traditionalist when it comes to marriage, and I respect and appreciate that different people are in different situations that may not always involve monogamously living happily ever after. But Powell wants it both ways. She wants a traditional marriage. But she also wants her husband AND boyfriend to both dote on her lovingly and exclusively, with no jealousy or repercussions.

To give an example of exactly why I stand behind the harsh descriptor "despicable," let me illustrate with something from the latter third of the book. On a trip to Tanzania, Powell is on a safari and hooks up with the tour guide. Not only is this months after she's professed her renewed devotion (once more) to her husband, but it's culturally inappropriate (and in fact, she is almost assaulted because of it). Powell's description of the make-out session? After the tour guide breaks it off - and HE breaks it off, she clearly states - she says that she is proud of herself. Proud that she had the courage to make out with him, and proud that she let him break it off.
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By HK on December 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I always complete a book once starting it (even one that is thoroughly unenjoyable,) but "Cleaving" proved quite a challenge. It is a failure on every level. The inadequacies begins with the writing. Butchery is an appropriate (if somewhat obvious) metaphor for what the author is doing to her life, but her descriptions, while detailed, are flat and uninspired. There is no magic, no startling descriptions or cunning observations. She simply walks the reader through her literal manipulation of the meat, probably thinking that this will be shocking enough to impress the reader. She never does the heavy lifting to transform that aspect of the text into something more than a (rather boring) technical manual.
Her recounting of her marital infidelity is so self-indulgent and unreflective that the fact that she saw fit to publish it in such a raw, unimaginative form is probably the ultimate insult to her benighted husband (who does not appear as a real person in the memoir--merely a doormat with legs). There's something abusive in her literary treatment of him. It's as though she's pathologically incapable of caring about others (including her husband or lover), and her arc culminates in complete acceptance of, and pride in, her lack of empathy. Even more pathetically, while she emotionally abuses her husband and attempts to manipulate her no doubt terrified lover, she is slavishly and compulsively obsessed with winning the approval of the "cool kids" at the butcher shop--it reads as almost a type of personality disorder, but clearly isn't recognized as such by the author.
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