06 January 2010

To Cut Apart / To Cling Together

I bought my husband a copy of Julie Powell’s book, Cleaving, for Christmas. I didn’t buy it because of her blog (which I never read) or her other book (which I haven’t read) or the movie (which I didn’t see until after Christmas). I didn’t buy it because of Julie Powell. I bought it because of the butcher.

Because, you see, that’s our butcher. All of the beef we’ve eaten in the past couple of years has come from Fleisher’s. We've got ground lamb, lard and stock in the freezer from Fleisher's. We had their Rockin' Moroccan sausages for dinner the other night.

I have to say, though, if I'd read the review first, I might not have bought the book. Because, whoa - the marriage and obsession parts of the subtitle are pretty squeamy making. She's totally not likeable, and her cheating on her husband is revolting, not least because the lover is also revolting, and anonymous sex in a stairwell? Yuck.

That said, the butcher shop parts - which make up the bulk of the first 80% of the book - are interesting. She gets the meat, she gets what they're doing, she brings the cutting and the grinding and the roasting alive on the page. Knowing that butcher shop from the front of the house, as I do, it was fascinating to read about the back of the shop antics and practices of the owners and staff.

The last 20% is a travelogue of meat 'round the world - and it feels lame and irrelevant.

I have to hand it to her though - as much as I loathed her person, for the infidelity, for the texting on the Taconic, for the whining, I finished the book in a kind of breathless whirlwind of "what's she going to cut up next?".



Incidentally, the title of the book is one of those cool autoantonyms, with two distinct and opposite meanings:

CLEAVE: To cut apart / to cling together

Clearly the butchery is the cutting apart. The obsession is the clinging together. Is the marriage coming apart or sticking together? Ah, language.

22 comments:

Kyla said...

Sounds interesting, but probably not my cup of tea. My opinion of a book is almost completely determined by how much I warm to the people within it.

Anjali said...

Interesting. Might have to check it out.

Speaking of meat and where it comes from, have you seen Food, Inc. So, so disturbing...

Anjali said...

Just read the amazon blub. I actually could never finish Julie & Julia -- I thought it was one of the most boring books I've read. And I like books with imperfect, even despicable characters. Perhaps this is a good one for me!

Bibliomama said...

Yeah -- I remember when I heard about the book thinking the title might end up being the best thing about it. I liked Julie and Julia well enough, although I totally agree she wasn't that likeable. They totally blew her part of the movie by casting Amy Adams, though, in my opinion -- way too cutesy, whereas for me J's redeeming feature was her borderline-obnoxious but sort of amusing foul-mouthed...ness(?). I still think I'll buy the movie and just keep fast-forwarding to all the Meryl Streep parts, though...bliss! And I'll probably read the book because butchers? are cool.

De said...

well, I'm intrigued.

I spent a day last week trying to find a veg and a meat CSA, but the situation in CT is still pretty bad. I found one place to get meat in bulk, but unfortunately, we don't own a freezer.

Perhaps it's time to get to know my local butcher.

mayberry said...

my husband would love the butchering stuff, but he'd never make it through the rest!

Vanessa said...

I'm the opposite. Read the J & J blog before it was a book, read the book, saw the movie in theatre, know all about the new book but haven't read (or requested from Library). I'll get to it! An affair!!!!! Also, just read that E. Gilbert got married and has a new book. I love it under my rock.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I heard her talking about it on NPR--I wasn't sure I could handle it.

Lawyer Mama said...

I just read it. Can't say I thought it was all that great a book. Waaaay too whiney and creepy. The meat part was interesting though. And it's really cool that Fleisher's is your butcher!

6512 and growing said...

Well. I saw J & J and loved it. (Meryl Streep steals the show). Then I read the book, which was enjoyable, though a bit me, me and more about me.

I am interested in Cleaving, in part because I've butchered over 20 deer and elk in the last decade and find it to be satisfying, joyful work.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

alejna said...

It really is a great book title. I don't think I'd really like the book, though. Actually, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be my cup of tea. (Which reminds me, there was a book called A Cup of Tea, which also turned out to be not my cup of tea.) I have little patience for infedelity as a theme. Also, I stopped eating meat, so the butcher bits would probably also turn me off, though at least they sound a bit more interesting.

I like the word autoantonym. I hadn't come across the term before. And I love that you linked to a list of such words. What fun!

I don't see "chuffed" on that list, which I think would fit the bill. It means both "annoyed" and "pleased." It's slang, though.

nonlineargirl said...

Um, yeah. Hopefully your husband understood what you were thinking with that gift.

Gwen said...

It's cool that your butcher is one of the ostensible stars of the show. Although, to be honest, I prefer to know very little about where my meat comes from. I want to think it grows in little meat hunks on the backyard meat tree. Easier for me to justify eating it that way, you see. Yeah. I'm a grown up.

Janet said...

I so disliked her first book (she came across so damn whiny) that I have no desire to read this one...plus...I'd probably have to give up eating meat entirely!

phd in yogurtry said...

Haven't read the blog, the book, or seen the movie (J&J) so I don't have a horse in this race whatsoever. But meat butchering? I think I'll pass. Cool that you know the butcher, however. I take it Ms.Powell departed my fair city and now resides in yours.

p.s. were you the one who recommended Secret History? Finished it recently.

Ilina said...

I would love to cut up all of Julie Powell's writing. I find it innane. She is a terrible story teller. I blogged about how much I hated Julie & Julia. It's a shame that someone with a great idea couldn't make it come to life better. There are many more wonderful bloggers out there who are fine writers. Boo, Julie Powell! But yeah for your butcher. I am jealous you have a butcher.

Woman in a Window said...

I feel many things about this post, Magpie. I don't know that writer/blogger you write about so should say nothing. Such strong feelings though...makes me wonder who I have perhaps/probably pissed off or rubbed the wrong way. I suppose about the same ratio as in life.

I do love the butcher element and that that's why you would purchase a book. You are a curious and steadfast sort.

xo
erin

Always Home and Uncool said...

My BIL worked in the butcher shop of a supermarket for a while.

After hearing his tales, I'd prefer my meat's origins to stay anonymous.

YourFireAnt said...

You do write a good book review, my dear.

T.

repliderium.com said...

I now live in a town too small for a local butcher around the corner.
Sigh.

The Library Lady said...

The only way I'd read it is if it ended with your butcher using his cleaver on HER and ensuring she wrote no more.

Read enough of her blog to find her repellent--self centered, whiney and foul mouthed.

On the other hand I LOVED Julia Child's "My Life In France"--now THAT's a book worth reading, and it made me like her as a person more than ever. So I'm planning on getting "J&J" from Netflix and fast forwarding through the JP sections!

niobe said...

I'm sure this is not exactly a surprise, but I used to amuse myself greatly by making up lists of autoantonyms. Pitted (meaning with pits or without pits) was one of my favorites.