Julie and Julia

Julie Powell

I was fairly excited about this book when I first heard about it. I never read the blog that started it all, but I went through a month or two of entries on a slow day at work. It seemed pretty entertaining. I have a certain affinity for Julia Child since we shared the same birthday; I like the idea of projects like making all the recipes in one cookbook; plus the book has a cute cover.

Unfortunately my expectations floundered early on, as Julie Powell delves in further than just Julia Child and her groundbreaking cookbook; more often it’s a memoir of a frustrated, going-on-30 secretary at a government agency in New York City, including sidetracks for stories concerning her friends’ love lives. The problem being that more often it’s this, and though Powell has a certain comedic knack, she doesn’t know how to spin a yarn.

At times the book lumbered on through tangential anecdotes that left me confused, either from holes in the storyline (unsuccessful attempts at switching up the narrative sequence?) or just bizarre grammatical choices (like three sequential paragraphs all in parentheses). Maybe that example was an attempt at grammar humor, though it seems more likely I just don’t appreciate the style of constant digressions. It probably doesn’t help that I had just read Time’s Magpie before this and was swooning over Myla Goldberg’s writing style. Despite those frustrations, I liked the bits where Powell imagined scenes between Julia and her husband Paul (helped by letters and journals he wrote), but this is only about an eighth or even a sixteenth of the book, and otherwise the self-deprecating humor just got old. When Powell starts out yet another chapter foreshadowing disaster and no disaster comes, I just felt like I wasn’t in on the joke.

The potential worst fault here is that she has little style for writing about food. I know that food writing can be overburdened by too artful of attempts at capturing the pleasures of eating, but on the other hand, this book was absent of any mouthwatering descriptions of completed recipes. Though I don’t eat a lot of meat and therefore would need something amazing to get me going on calves’ brains, I did expect to get somewhat excited about the food itself. That may be the biggest disappointment—a lack of salivation.

All the same, there was enough here to get my interest in Julia Child raised, and I have just discovered that My Life in France (a memoir finished by her grandnephew) will be released in just a few weeks. Appetite for Life (a biography) may also prove interesting.