Cleaving is that rare word with multiple meanings 180 degrees apart. On the one hand, itís
what someone with a, well, cleaver does—cutting things apart. But on the other hand, it
also means to adhere, cling, or stick fast, to be faithful—the biblical sense of husband
and wife cleaving together. Julie Powell, the Julie half of Julie and Julia (also
reviewed on Myshelf.com)
rings her way through most of the changes on those themes in her latest book, Cleaving: A
Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession.
It has been a couple of years since Julie and Julia became a surprise hit; and Julieís
life is foundering again, although for less innocent reasons not susceptible to simple solutions.
She loves her husband Eric, in the yin yang, they are two halves of one whole sense. Cleaving
together. But D, the one boy from her past who could make her come running with a crook of his
finger, has reappeared. A passionate, extended affair ensues. Eric finds out through messages on
her BlackBerry (which almost qualifies as a character itself in the story), and while Julie tries
a few times to break things off, well, thereís that other word in the title—obsession.
Cleaving apart. But also cleaving together, since even when D himself calls a halt to the affair,
Julie can't accept that, and continues to cleave in the clinging, adhering sense... to the point
of obsession and well beyond.
Which brings us to the meat. Butchers, Julie notes, have always had the appeal for her that
firemen have for other women. Theyíre "more sure about meat than I've ever been about anything,"
which she finds an intoxicating essence of masculinity. Sheís also a foodie who likes getting her
hands dirty doing things, and much as she tackled Julie Childís French cooking classic in a
somewhat obsessive fashion to deal with one life crisis, here she escapes from a different one
through an extended search for a butcherís shop that will take her on as an apprentice (back to
cleaving). What she also finds is a new place to belong (cleaving again) away from the chaos her
life has become. "Iíve craved certainty in these last troubled years, and here I get my fix."
The book covers Julieís tales of a marriage falling apart and obsession over an irresistible
lover, alongside tales of what itís like to "turn a cow into a steak" and the irreverent group who
teach her how. The last section covers an around-the-world trip once her apprenticeship is done,
chasing answers and meat amongst Argentinean beef brokers and Ukrainian sausage makers, before
finally coming home physically and emotionally to face what sheís left behind and also been
carrying with her.
Itís an interesting read, although honestly I'd have preferred more butchery and less sex life.
(Iím trying not to think too hard about what this says about me.) But the sex is hardly gratuitous
and is a key element of the story. Julie reads this herself, which is enjoyable most of the time,
such as when the reader shares her humorous look at things, but does also get in the way when her
voice gets a bit overwrought discussing others. An enjoyable read that will offer a bunch of
lessons about life and loins.