Cleaving by Julie Powell

Powell, Julie. Cleaving. New York: Hachette Audio. 2009.


(Note: books are rated between one and five smiley faces, one being a book that I didn’t like all that much, and five being a book I loved.)

Okay, I did know going into this one that it was about a woman having an affair, and I am not so naĂŻve as not to understand why a woman might have an affair. I’ve read about plenty of husbands (and, unfortunately met a few real-life ones) who are overly cruel, critical, demanding, or neglectful to understand why a woman might break her vows and find some comfort in the arms of another man. However, reading about such things is not normally my cup of tea. I’ve never been very patient with those who cheat, preferring to see people disentangle themselves from a bad situation and stand on their own two feet before embarking on something new (and possibly hurting someone else in the process), so I should have known I might not like this book. I have to admit, though, that I was awfully curious about it. I’d read Powell’s Julie and Julia and had loved it. I was dying to know how the kind, patient, loving husband in that book could possibly have turned into the sort of man that would drive a woman to cheat on him. Maybe she’d lied about him in the first book. Maybe he had multiple personalities. I couldn’t resist checking it out when I walked into the library one day and found this audio version on the shelf (read by the author herself, nonetheless. It’s always a treat to find an audiobook read by the author).

I like to think of myself as a kind, generous, forgiving soul — someone who doesn’t want to judge others harshly, but then I find myself listening to something like this, and my only reaction is, “Good grief, woman. Can you be any more self-absorbed?” And then I begin to fear that this is merely a reflection of what all those raised during and since “The Me Decade” of the 1970s (which would include me) are just like these days. I hope we’re not all so bad. You see, Eric, the loving husband from Julie and Julia, the kind of husband many women would give their eye-teeth to have, hasn’t changed. He hasn’t suddenly become abusive or distant or told Julie he doesn’t think he loves her anymore. Still, she cheats on him.

If you are looking for a book about butchering, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a book that is charming and witty like the author’s first effort, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a book about a thirty-something-year-old woman who acts like a grownup instead of an impulsive teenager, this is not a book for you. If, however, you are looking for a book that is all about Julie Powell screaming, “ME! ME! ME! Pay attention to me! I am so tortured! I must do something for ME to keep this torture at bay!”, well, then bingo! This is just the book you are looking to read. Nonetheless, for some reason, I stuck with it. I will say that the second half of the book, when she was traveling around the world, eating all kinds of interesting food was better than the first (but that may only be because travel, food and cooking interest me, and, I promise you, Elizabeth Gilbert did that better in Eat, Pray, Love). Still, nothing kept me from wanting to shake her and say, “You want to feel good? You want to be happier? Then try doing something for someone else for a change, and stop stomping all over those who love you. Cook some meals for some hungry children. Take some food to lonely patients in nursing homes. You’re so weepy over others being generous and kind to you, why don’t you trying being generous and kind to others?” I get a strange feeling that she wouldn’t listen, though.

Interestingly, the best part of the audiobook wasn’t the book itself. It came at the end when her editor interviewed her. I liked that part. She became a little more sympathetic (but just a little). Has anyone else read it? If not, please do, and tell me if you think I’m wrong. I’d love to be able to see it from a different angle.