Cleaving by Julie Powell

This is a gut-wrenching read. While she learns the art of butchery, Julie Powell is torn between a sadomasochistic affair with semi-disinterested lover and life with her over-safe husband.

I found that I could only read one chapter at a time because I couldn’t stomach too much self-flagellation in one go. It feels as though Powell is atoning for the vaseline lens she put over her marriage in Julie & Julia. She subjects herself to such unflinching scrutiny throughout the book that it’s sometimes hard to keep reading.

I’m completely undecided about this book. On one hand, I want to applaud its raw honesty, and the way in which it uncovers the disordered, needy edge of female desire. The writing is at its sharpest when she’s discussing butchery and drawing out the muscular connections between lust and dismemberment.

On the other hand, there are parts of this book that feel a little unrestrained. Sometimes it’s repetitive, and the narrative doesn’t seem to ever move very far. I understand that this is the point, that we are watching someone who’s stuck in a set of behaviours she can’t shake, but then I also think that Powell sometimes forgets her readers in her urgent quest to unravel her psyche.

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