the crabigail review: cleaving

i write up descriptions of every book i read on my goodreads account (see blog sidebar for links), & i finally got around to writing up cleaving: a story of marriage, meat, & obsession, by julie powell, which i struggled through a few weeks ago. i gave it one star. & i decided to cross-post it over here because the review touches on a few things i especially dislike about bloggers-turned-authors & gimmick memoirists who basically experiment with their lives for the sake of a publishing contract:

i hated this book. i read julie & julia &, you know, i didn’t think julie powell was the next shakespeare or anything, but she managed to pull together a better book than most bloggers-turned-authors out there. i was engaged with the story. i enjoyed the prose in an auto-pilot brain kind of way. i figured this book would be more of the same–philosophical insights about her personal life shared through a prism of foodie-ness. & i guess that’s what it was, but it was also unspeakably horrible.

what’s going on in her personal life here is that she has started an affair with some lame-seeming dude who she already had one affair with in college. it doesn’t sound like the dude is much to write home about in the looks or personality departments, but julie thinks the sex they have is really hot. everyone should have at least one sexual partner in their life that can provide them with really hot times, & if that involves a little S&M action, i’m not here to judge. but most of us learn by the time we are julie’s age (or far, far younger) that those sex hijinks are not for public consumption! i’ve had my share of good times, but i don’t kid myself that anyone wants to read a book about them! i definitely DID NOT want to read a book about julie powell’s douchebaggy lover leaving bruises all over her body while she observes his left-handed jacking off methods.

let me just say that at one point, julie writes very specifically about searching for the one image of her lover that is available on the internet (this is after he wised up, realized that she is batshit crazy, & cut her completely out of his life). it’s his facebook default profile picture, in which he is wearing a “ben sherman shirt” that she had purchased for him. this brings me to another aspect of the book that i hated: julie dropping little references like that into the text like it’s supposed to help us relate to her. when i think of ben sherman shirts, i think of dudes who are just as big of douchebags as dudes who wear ed hardy, but they prefer a somewhat preppier plaid button-down look to the ed hardy surfer schlub style. i don’t think of hot sexxxin’.

another example is when julie writes about the guy who runs the butchershop where she apprentices. apparently he has a great big ironic mustache & a t-shirt that says, “guns don’t kill people, people with mustaches kill people.” hilarious. oh wait. we all know about threadless, dude. & aren’t ironic t-shirts a little circa 2000? the saddest part of all is that julie found this dumbass t-shirt amusing enough to include it in her PUBLISHED MEMOIR, which is sure to linger on library sale shelves long after the author herself stops finding ironic mustache humor the cutting edge of comedy.

& ALSO on this note is julie’s non-stop obsession with “buffy, the vampire slayer”. now, i know it’s a popular TV show…i just don’t think JULIE knows it’s a popular TV show. the way she writes about it, you’d think it was this really edgy cult discovery she’d made because she is just right there, balanced on the precipice of the cutting edge. she liberally sprinkles buffy quotes throughout the book, to do big things like describing her entire basic life philosophy. it all strikes me as very sad. when people use cultural touchstones in such a lazy, self-absorbed way…i can’t help it, it screams stupidity to me. julie powell did not seem stupid in her first book, & perhaps it’s even too strong a term to use here. but i at least walked away from the first book thinking she’d be a laugh at a dinner party. i walked away from this one thinking she’d be a dullard. she really should have walked away with one book under her belt…or taken more time to make sure her follow-up wasn’t just a sloppy, self-centered rush job designed to capitalize on the success of the “julie & julia” film.

okay, so…she’s having this affair. of course her husband finds out, because, as she incessantly tells us, they are likes two halves of a whole, they seem to share a mind, blah blah. i gotta feel for eric if THIS is the mind he’s sharing. then again, i guess it gives him plenty of room to stretch out. he begins his own affair, but i guess the sex isn’t as hot because he ends it after a while. he wants julie to end her affair as well, but she seems to be on some kind of self-destructive, sex-obsessed warpath & won’t do it. plus she’s always sneaking into the bathroom to surrptitiously check for messages from her lover on her blackberry, even though she knows her husband knows her passwords & occasionally reads her messages. which isn’t cool of him, but it’s not like she’s not giving him reason to be suspicious, you know?

basically, instead of sounding like a couple that is so much in love that they can stick it out even through these kinds of betrayals, they sound like a couple of fucked up, alcoholic assholes who are spinning themselves a fantasy that maybe they would have outgrown by now if they hadn’t started dating when they were teenagers. they seem to still have a bullshit teenage perception of what it means to be “in love”. mark my words, these two will be divorced within three years.

julie’s obsessive relationship with her lover is emblematic of her relationship with men in general. when she’s at the butchershop, her whole bag is trying to be one of the boys, listening to their gross, sexist jokes & telling gross, sexist jokes of her own to show how unaffected she is. when she goes on her ridiculous butchery world tour (way to rip off eat pray love), her whole bag is trying to be as attractive to as many men as possible. & supposedly it works. apparently all of the men in argentina are just fascinated with her, & it never seems to occur to her that maybe they are just interested in getting some tail & are not actually all that taken with HER particular womanly gifts. she makes out with a maasai warrior in africa, & we are treated to a good 25 pages of some other dude on the african tour attempting to sexually assault her in her tent while she wussily fought back, castigated herself for being a wuss, castigated herself for not yelling for help, castigated herself for telling people about it the next day, castigated herself for probably getting the dude fired, & so on. it was like fifty years of fucked up responses to sexual assault, boiled down into one person’s recollection of a single experience that lasted maybe twelve hours (from time of attempted to assault to getting her phone back & leaving the site). it was kind of sickening.

& all of this is mixed with hackneyed metaphors involving butchery, & more information that i ever needed about how to chop up various animal parts. the food aspects of julie & julia were certainly present, but i don’t remember them being so heavy on the technical detail or relentlessly dull. maybe she just had lightning in a bottle with that first book, & she tried to re-capture the dynamic with this second book & everything came out clunky. i feel bad for the editor. i feel bad for any of her family or friends who tries to read this book. i feel bad for julie & any of her loved ones that read these reader reviews. but dear god, if she does read them, i hope she learns something. i hope she grows the fuck up, gets some counseling for her self-esteem issues (really? you wore boots & a skirt in new york city & no man could take his eyes off you for the entire day? a) i doubt that. b) why do you care so much? you are a PUBLISHED AUTHOR whose debut memoir was turned into a blockbuster movie starring two A-list hollywood actresses. doesn’t that trump some greasy asshole in washington square checking out your ass? he’d be doing it if you were wearing sweatpants, trust me!) & alcoholism (two bottles of wine a night, alone? that is scary. the guys at the liquor store have nicknamed your favorite brand after you? problematic), & takes more time to truly craft her next book. maybe she actually is a decent author. or maybe julie & julia was a fluke, or the product of a very gifted editor.

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7 responses to “the crabigail review: cleaving

  1. I honestly am disgusted by the thought of a memoir revolving around an affair where the memoirist doesn’t feel regret or even *learn* anything from it! Cheating just upsets me so much……I’m glad I didn’t get into the Julia and Julia craze before hearing about her follow-up book. I won’t be giving her any of *my* money, that’s for sure.

    • to clarify, the affair bothered me a lot less as an act (or series of acts) than her writing about it did. i have been around the block enough times to understand that long-term monogamous relationships are very difficult. people are tempted & sometimes they stray. sometimes a relationship can persevere through a betrayal like that & sometimes it can’t. i personally have never cheated & doubt i ever will, but who knows what the future holds? & i hope my partner never cheats, but…i can’t predict the future, nor my reaction to his behavior.

      the thing i didn’t like here was the fact that the book was rushed so that julie was writing about the affair & its aftermath in the moment. there was no distance & hence no perspective. there was mouthed regret, where she said what she thought she should say to appease readers who found her relationship with eric so magical in julie & julia, or to assuage her own guilty conscience, but it rang hollow because the only parts of the book where she expressed any joy, excitement, or personality, were in her recollections about her affair. there’s a passage where she writes about a julie & julia fan recognizing her while she’s on an illicit date with her lover, & when the fan asks if he’s eric, he says he is. instead of showing any guilt or remorse whatsoever for the way she deceived her fan & made a fool of eric, she bubbles over with relief at the lie & says she can’t wait to get her boyfriend home to have sex.

      affairs happen (sad, but true). sometimes people have their reasons for not regretting their affairs. but this whole book, written in the moment as it is, reads like a teenage diary. it’s an embarrassment. julie has said about negative reviews that they say “more about [the people writing them] than they do [about her],” & if the only criticism she received was judgment for having an affair & not seeming very sorry about it, i would understand. but it’s also about the sloppy writing, & the poor judgment she displayed in putting the book together, & the fact that she rubs her poor decisions in the reader’s face & then casts aspersions of prude-ishness when we recoil.

  2. this is pretty much the best review of this book i have read so far. i read the first chapter in the store because i was curious and then promptly wanted to puke my face off. i don’t make any moral judgments on what she did with or without whoever, because there have been plenty of other memoirs written by people who have done problematic things but have the self-reflection and ability to gain some wisdom from it. that’s why you read the memoir, duh! but it really sounds like she has absolutely no sense of, i don’t know, real growth or self-reflection AND a bad case of self-aggrandizement-disguised-as-blogger-“winsomeness.” the combination is enough for me to never want to read the rest of the book. xo k.

    • thanks! i am glad you liked it! i have to say though, one of the best reviews i have read so far came from a reviewer for NPR, who write, “if this book is ever taught as fine literature, i will personally apologize to julie powell & i will moisten the envelope with my own tears.” oh snap! i laughed out loud.

      word on self-aggradizement/blogger winsomeness. i need to think about this more, but this is pretty much exactly what i don’t like about bloggers-turned-authors. with bloggers, it’s all about the instant gratification of a readership, people commenting, maybe sparking some dialogue/flame wars/what-have-you. you’re writing for an audience & it can get pretty specific because people are commenting & letting you know what they think in real-time. but a book takes time, & you’re spending it alone with the manuscript, without a lot of on the ground feedback, & there’s no telling who your audience will eventually be. the “winsomeness” doesn’t always translate, & to become defensive about that, & to insult the people who took the time to read your books by suggesting that it’s THEIR problem they are so prude-ish or moralistic or whatever, is a sign of extreme immaturity. i mean, maybe some of them are prudes. but there’s also something to be said for listening to your critics & crafting your writing so you’re not so reliant on your possibly less-than-endearing personality.

  3. Ciara – the wonderful thing about your shitty reviews… is that you still make me want to read the book.

  4. yeah good review. i am a fan of the first book and like you thought it was witty enough to enjoy. i might check out this one in the bookstore and give it a skim but probably just read it for free when it gets to the library.

  5. Great review.

    I am in general agreement with you. It was shocking to see how cruelly she treats Eric. And it’s shocking to see she doubled the humiliation by writing about it in a book for everyone to read.

    Cruel, heartless, selfish. What she does is about as bad as anything one person can do to another without committing a crime.

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