Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell
2 out of 5 stars
It feels like I have been reading this book forever, and I'm so glad to be done with it. I loved Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child in the movie and liked Amy Adams enough to get through the Julie Powell bits. Stanley Tucci, another one of my favorites, played Julia's husband, Paul.
I'm all over one-year experiment memoirs, but I'd stayed away from this one because of the mixed reviews. But when this book was in my book group's "Yankee Swap" Christmas book exchange, I stole it from my sweet friend Caley. I took it to Holden Village with me last week, and halfway through I picked up another book (Touching the Void) in the Holden library because I needed a break from Julie Powell's incessant whining.
I'm not sure what her original blog was like, because it's virtually impossible to navigate through. I'm curious whether she actually chronicled her progress through the 536 recipes in 365 days, because in the book she writes about only perhaps 60 (?) of them, which is pretty strange since that's what the book is supposedly about. The recipes she does cover are mostly nothing I'd ever want to eat (many involve offal, brains, veal, or lamb). I wanted to know more about the actual cooking process of all of these recipes, not about Powell's tortured work life, strange friends, extremely squishy integrity, and pathetic house cleaning habits.
I definitely could have done without the maggots scene. The thought of her cooking all that fancy food in a filthy, maggot-breeding kitchen is enough to make me vomit. Her poor (dysfunctional) friends--they must have had the same feeling when they read her book and realized they had eaten the products of that kitchen.
Powell's husband, Eric, is faithfully devoted and long suffering. It didn't help me like Powell's personality knowing she cheated on her husband for 2 years and wrote all about it in her subsequent book, Cleaving. She's narcissistic and shallow and shares way too much information, even for a blog or memoir. I agree with her on some fronts (politics being one) and disagree on many others (she calls the World War II memorial in Washington "mind-bogglingly hideous"--but I liked it!).
Speaking of mind boggling, I question how Powell could hold down a mind-numbing bureaucratic job and cook 536 complicated and expensive recipes in one year's time, without gobs of vacation time and a hefty loan. It's hard to tell if she cheated--all we have to go on is her claim that she couldn't think of not finishing her project in one year's time. But who's to say she didn't skip half of the recipes?
One thing I'd like to know is how a notoriously fussy eater (she had never eaten an egg, for God's sake, before starting the project) was able to get past her food foibles and eat all sorts of bizarre ingredients (such as beef marrow and calf's feet). She does not address how she conquered her food issues, but she does mention she gained a lot of weight during that year. She relished eating innards and also in butchering, slicing, and killing (lobsters).
Powell is crushed to learn that Julia Child was not impressed with her project. After reading this book, I do not blame Julia Child one bit. Perhaps if Powell were more likable and spent more time focusing on the cooking and less on the drama in her life, Julia Child would have been entranced and intrigued by her blog.
At the end of the book, Powell claims that the project rescued her. When Julia Child died, she wrote, "I have no claim over the woman at all, unless it's the claim one who has nearly drowned has over the person who pulled her out of the ocean." If this is true, though, why did she start an affair with another man a few years later because she was filled with self-loathing or some other ridiculous reason? Julie & Julia is full of soppy adoration for her husband Eric (except when he's having a "Blanche" day or gets in her way when she is having a tantrum). What happened to lead her to not only have an affair and have a quickie with a stranger, but to rub her husband's nose in it?
Throughout Julie & Julia, Powell scatters made-up vignettes about Julia Child and her husband Paul. They seemed out of place and only made me want to read Julia Child's My Year in France to learn the real story. Julia Child was a fascinating, dynamic woman who loved life and her husband with a passion. Julie Powell, not so much.