Title: Julie & Julia:
Author: Julie Powell
Summary: Julie is a late-twenty-something New Yorker with a loving husband, a horrible apartment, and a job as a government drone. When she hits her mid-life crisis a bit early, she embarks on a year-long project: to cook her way through Julia Child’s famous cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” vol.1. Julie tells the story of that year– and the insanity that ensues.
Ok– my summary doesn’t nearly do the book justice. It is a memoir (which is quite a departure for my reading) that incorporates humor, food, work stress, family, insane self-imposed projects, and moving. It also wasn’t what I was expecting. I was disappointed in the first few chapters; I had expected it to be a collection of her blog entries, not a whole story. I’m a Johnny-come-lately to this whole thing, and I hadn’t read Julie’s original blog (I have now– it’s still up).
Soon, though, I came to appreciate the fact that there was a whole story here. I love Julie as a narrator! Her prose is friendly and comfortable, like she’s talking on the phone to you, telling you all about her day. Sometimes there’s more detail that you really care about, and sometimes you want to interrupt her and make her go back and tell you more about something– she usually does eventually. Also, her narrative tone changes to match her mood at a given point in the story (a trick many writers never quite accomplish).
So, for example, when their pipes have been frozen for three days, and her husband is about to put into practice some ill-advised scheme for heating their drafty apartment, but Julie still has to cook in order to meet her self-imposed deadline, we are treated to passages like this one:
“He gets an idea in his head, but you still have much work to do, and besides you haven’t bathed in three days, so you put him off by asking him to make you a gimlet. Chop up some potatoes and carrots and turnips. If you’re feeling patient, you can carve the vegetables up into beautiful smooth round shapes. Does it make a difference? I wouldn’t know; I’m not patient. Also peel some pearl onions. If you have no water but the melted oily gray snow you scooped up from the sidewalk into your cooler (a cooler that will now have to be disinfected with lye), just so you could flush the toilet, you’ll have to peel them the hard way, without parboiling them first. You might need another gimlet for that.” (213-214)
And so on.
I really, really enjoyed reading this book. Now, not all of the story is hysterically funny. Some chapters are poignant, and a good deal of text is given over to the actual preparation of the dishes and how Julie altered them for her kitchen. If you follow what Julie did, you could make most of the recipes yourself (as I did with the potato & leek soup yesterday).
Julie’s having such a distinctive narrative voice means that there is definitely a target audience for this memoir– the mid-twenties (ok, closer to 30 than 20, but I’m not in denial at all) woman. I think older people might not sympathize quite as much with her personality or her housekeeping (or lack thereof). Younger folks just haven’t hit that existential point yet which makes a person say, “I need to do this crazy thing.” Here’s the test: read pages 332 & 333 (in the Little Brown ed). If you could imagine something similiar happening in your house, then you will enjoy Julie. If you think, “How disgusting! How can people live like that?” Then, she may not be the girl for you.
Julie’s definately for me. Perhaps because I’m about Julie’s age (at the time) and have also hit that realization that I’ve realistically gotten just about as far as I’m going to go (without making all sorts of super-drastic changes), so I’d better get used to that idea. Maybe because I know in my heart that I will never have a floor that is clean enough to eat from. Maybe because I love to cook and bake, but always end up with flour in my hair. Whatever it is, I think I’ve found a kindred spirit in Julie.
I’m looking forward to the movie, too. It seems it will incoporate Julia Child’s personal story more, which will be nice. In this book, Julia’s story is told in small snapshots scattered throughout the book. I’m interested in learning more. I enjoyed The French Chef and her several other shows. On the downside, though, it will be nearly impossible to capture the wonderful narration of the book within the confines of the film– narration is nearly always lost the the translation.
Overall: yes, yes indeed.
If you want more, check the links below.
Julie’s orginal blog: http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/2002/08/25.html
Julie’s current blog: http://juliepowell.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_archive.html
and, for more of Julia Child herself, check out the PBS site: http://video.pbs.org/program/1073557581/?gclid=CPyj9ozPgJwCFQZlswodLktC_w