Book Review: Cleaving by Julie Powell

Saturday, February 13, 2010 Posted by Dina N

Last summer, I reviewed Julie & Julia, the literary debut of bored-out-of-her mind office worker turned cook/blogger Julie Powell. She embarks on the ambitious project of making every recipe from Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking in a year. You know by now that she succeeded, and her book was made into a major movie picture starring my favorite Meryl Streep as Julia Child, among an array of other fine actors.

Julie's second book, Cleaving, documents another food-related adventure. Here Julie decides to learn the art of butchery - not the factory-based, mass-production kind but the dangerous skills of traditional butchers who work with their hands, aided by a scarily (at least to me) sharp arsenal of knives. In more ways than one, this book is quite different than Julie & Julia. Darker, more serious, grown up, and cutting deeper - pun intended. Cleaving is also a natural continuation of Julie Powell's debut. Julie's writing is still funny, smart, and entertaining but is also harder to stomach - especially the complicated affair that threatens to destroy her marriage and the detailed descriptions of cutting meat. I appreciated her honesty and fearlessness in depicting both. The art of cleaving - with all its very literal and concrete imagery - becomes a metaphor of sorts for Julie Powell. Cleaving is the means to dissecting her life and emotions, the journey of taking it all apart to make a new whole. And while I did not care particularly for the cleaving meat sequences, I liked Julie's more mature writing style.

I enjoyed reading - or rather listening, since I have the audio book version - about Julie's trips abroad. However, the book could have easily done without them - and they came more as an afterthought that did not feel like a real part of the book. Sure, putting some geographical distance - as well as emotional - between her and New York life helps Julie find her peace. But the description of these trips was short and lacking the detail of Julie's foray into butchery. For me, this part of the book makes it uneven, as Julie hurries through the depiction of her travels.

If you loved Julie & Julia, Cleaving may disappoint you - Julie has changed, and her second memoir lacks the lightheartedness of the first. Then again, we all grow up.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary audio book copy of this book without any obligation to write a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are mine and may differ from yours.  Many thanks to Hachette Book Group for providing me with a review copy.


  1. Cami Checketts said...

    I'm sorry it wasn't as good as Julia & Julia, but I love your thought, "We all grow up." Good thing for my children or I would never even think of light-hearted.

  2. Pricilla said...

    I did not much like this one. I did not read Julie and Julia so I did not have a comparison.

  3. couponmom said...

    I just read this review now. I have only seen the movie Julie and Julia, never read the book. But still, I think I would give this one a try.

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