Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession – Julie Powell, 2009

Having loved Julie and Julia, I was disappointed that this memoir/sequel was almost universally trashed in reviews. We didn’t get it at the library and I had no specific plans to read it. But then I saw Julie Powell speak in Scranton and she was wonderful – wry, funny, articulate, and revealing more of the edginess of the original blog (ie, nothing like the Amy Adams character in the movie). So this was one of the first ebooks I checked out of the Free Library of Philadelphia collection to read on my new Nook.

Powell’s writing is compelling, and Cleaving is an excellent book – people hate it because she’s honest about her adultery (and as she said at the lecture, “everyone loves Eric,” her saintly husband). I can’t say I enjoyed being dragged so realistically through her obsessive misery–despite being a vegetarian for almost 30 years, I actually enjoyed the story of her learning to be a butcher far more. (It was fascinating to read about the divisions between muscles and the skill required to find them with a knife.) But it did make me think about monogamy. I know there are people who are happily polyamorous, but their experiences don’t seem to get recorded much; one mostly hears about the painful experiences of those who are torn between two people. Too many choices make people unhappy, and since the majority can’t happily co-exist with more than one person, it’s a huge advantage of monogamy to focus on loving and committing to just one person. The longer Julie keeps her connection to “D” alive, the more unhappy she is, the more insane her behavior becomes, and the more she hurts Eric. If only she had refused him when he first came back into her life, she would have avoided the trauma which makes up most of this book. I couldn’t help wanting to shake her as she moons over D, ends up stalking him, and alienates her friends. Choosing one person channels that energy. I found the supposedly-correct wording of an Ursula Le Guin quote I love and which this reminds me of: “Love doesn’t sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new.” No source, alas – I will find it again one of these days.