Monday, January 04, 2010

The Art Of French Cooking

Just finished reading Cleaving, a memoir by Julie Powell, the same writer who wrote Julie and Julia. Let's be clear: Julie Powell is no Amy Adams a la the movie. I saw the Julie/Julia movie, surprising myself by enjoying Meryl Streep as Julia Childs, but not caring as much for the cutesy heroine who cooks her way through a year of The Art of French Cooking. No worries there -- that cutesy narrator is nowhere to be found in Cleaving. The book, from what I hear, has not done well. Those readers charmed by the plucky happily married blogger/cook in the first book won't like the narrator in her new offering. But does this make the book a bad one, much like many of the reviews on Amazon suggest? In Cleaving, Julie Powell cheats on her husband (in a slightly s/m-ish affair where, after being dumped, turns into a full-blown loop de loo, cyber-stalking her ex-lover and sending him countless texts about her how miserable she is), learns how to butcher meat (arguably some of the best parts of the book), drinks a lot, and travels with her husband who knows all about her extracurricular activities.

To be honest, I don't know what I think of the book. I found it compelling, staying up late to read it in that train wreck kind of way. Never having watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I missed a lot of the references to it and the way it serves as a touchstone in her marriage. I don't dislike or feel betrayed Julie Powell as much of her former fan base seems to feel; I don't think it's a writer's job to be likable. But this begs the question -- how much information is too much in a memoir? Do you have to like or identify with the teller of the tale? And what if, like in all relationships, the writer eventually lets you down? We all start every relationship with an idealized view of someone. Then we have a fight or the person disappoints us in some fundamental way. The walls come down, the masks are tossed to the side. We no longer sit in the glow of perfection, but the good news is this -- we are now free to have a real relationship, the kind that will last, free of the bullshit and soul-killing expectations of perfection. Someone told me that the publisher didn't want Julie Powell to release this latest memoir before the movie. And the movie does charm. But like the meat she learns to butcher, Powell exposes herself in a way that Julie and Julia doesn't begin to touch. The recipe, like liver or chicken hearts, isn't for all tastes, but it does get pretty close to the bone marrow.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself." Charles Dickens

Cocktail Hour
Good news, my friends. Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew returns this Thursday!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Yes, Jason, I did copy your Crystal Vodka skull! Let's face it, it's too cool. Vodka and a skull? Not since Tequila in a gun have I been so pleased. Happy Monday!


Laura Benedict said...

Is that a pretty picture of you, or what? The colors complement you so awfully well, sweetie.

Oh, I like this post. TMI. Such a difficult thing for a writer to balance. I read, reviewed and really enjoyed Powell's first book. I thought she came off as reasonably honest and kind of a pain in the ass to live with. But it was her eccentricity that made for such a good story. I think I'll have to read Cleaving now. I really like the way you describe how relationships mature--in real life, of course. As both a reader and a writer, I wrestle with the literary relationship issue. Though I'm coming to think, the more information, the better. (About other people, anyway. ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Since most of my stuff is genre based, I don't struggle with this issue too much. Even if I do write something that is revealing I can always fluff it off and say it wasn't me.

Jason said...

I generally read bio's or memoir's from people whose story I think I can identify with. I generally like to a biography looking for insight into my own condition or inspiration to keep on moving forward.

I hadn't heard about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer portion of Cleaved. Now I am a little interested.

the walking man said...

The old lady banned me from the kitchen and in that I have been cleaved from cooking.

On the rest of it...*shrug* I try to start all relationships bypassing the bullshit getting to know you stage. I haven't got the time to learn to dance every new dance that comes along.

Dave said...

how much information is too much in a memoir?

This much:

"I slept with my dad for years."
-Mackenzie Phillips

"My five-year-old daughter found my heroin syringe in my bedroom; what's the big deal?"
--Tatum O'Neal

Do you have to like or identify with the teller of the tale?



The Tell-Tale Heart

And what if, like in all relationships, the writer eventually lets you down?

You stop reading them:

Stephen King

Anne Rice

Whitenoise said...

I'm not likely to read either book nor watch the movie but your thoughts about idealizing people then struggling with the reality of their personal failings are spot on.

Hey- what happened to Jim's blog?! JR's Thumbprints was one of my favourite reads...

jodi said...

Hey Babe, haven't read or seen either yet, but plan to do both. Your review was better that the Fress Press one! I love the B's and M's this week. U are a big nut! xo

priscilla said...

Missy, I think they put Amy Adams in that part to make Powell more likable. I tried to read her first book and just couldn't get through it, so I am hardly tempted to read the second one.

Anyway, too bad no one was able to stop Kathryn Harrison. I guess she got the TMI genie out of the bottle. Really, I think it the idea of TMI depends less on what's told than how it's told.