Sunday, December 6, 2009


“There ain’t nothing that breaks up homes, country and nations like somebody publishing their memoirs.” - Will Rogers

On Friday, I was at my son’s piano lesson, reading a copy of the music studio’s “Entertainment Weekly”, when I came across a review of Julie Powell’s new book, Cleaving. Now let me clear something up, while this is now the third post that mentions this woman, I really don’t spend a lot of time thinking about her (No, I swear). I thought we had some stage of life similarities when I read her book*. If I had read her memoir before I wrote a blog, I may never have brought her up at all. Then I mentioned her in passing when I read Julia Child’s book**, which I much preferred.

The end of, Julie and Julia had the first chapter of her upcoming book, which takes place in a butcher shop. I didn’t find the premise nearly as compelling, and hadn’t planned to read it (Still don’t).

On an unrelated post***, a person commented on seeing and enjoying the movie “Julie and Julia”, but that he checked Julie Powell’s blog and found, “The fictional Julie Powell is considerably more likable than the real one.” I had only briefly glanced at Julie’s blog, just to get a sense of it.

The comment about likeability is more accurate than I could’ve imagined. Perusing the article, it seems that Ms. Powell’s life has taken a turn down a dark and dank tunnel. While her first book is about her struggle to find herself, her second book is about her adultery, her husband’s adultery, time she spent interning at a butcher shop, and time she spent learning about butchery around the world.

I assume she thinks she’s being clever with the title. According to, here’s the definition:

cleave 1

  1. To split with or as if with a sharp instrument

cleave 2

  1. To adhere, cling, or stick fast
  2. To be faithful

Apparently, finding herself wasn’t such a good thing. I’m not judging the affairs per se, but more that she’d advertise these details of unfaithfulness with the world.

I don’t know why, but I’m always shocked when people reveal that much of their private lives. She’s not famous, like Tiger Woods, who is currently clinging to any privacy he can in the face of incessant scrutiny. She’s more like Mackenzie Phillips, who exposed incest in her recent book. Some may think it’s brave when a person provides details like that, because it puts him or her in an unflattering light. But to me, it’s absurd.

Recently, I wrote a post about my own struggle with maintaining privacy for those I inadvertently write about, when I write about myself****. This is especially difficult when referring to close family members or friends, for not only could strangers dig just a little to find out their identities, but those who know my inner-circle can easily identify the person I am speaking of. And what about when I write concerning someone who is a minor or is mentally incapable of providing permission? Consequently, each word I type is chosen with care. My musings are meant to reveal more about me than my confidantes.

Now I’m sure Ms. Powell is on the talk show circuit, and will now have to discuss the details of her and her husband’s infidelities. Wherever her husband goes, his story splayed within her pages follows him. Could it have been the advance she was promised to make him agree to that indiscretion? How many regrets does this couple have? How many regrets are to yet to be regretted?

Fiction is certainly the safer route as a writer. Most believe whatever you write is true (with my manuscripts, it’s usually not), but they’ll never know for sure. I can guarantee that if I decide to cheat on my spouse and sanction my spouse embracing a mistress, you won’t see it written about here. Sorry, people!

“I've given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can't divorce a book.” – Gloria Swanson






  1. Apparently I'm not alone in my reaction to the book. Read this insightful post about Ms. Powell's disconnect from her actions and lack of remorse:

  2. It seems like you and Linda Holmes, in the article you cite above, are talking about different things though.

    If I understand you correctly, you're condemning all memoir writers whom you judge to be revealing too much about their personal lives -- presumably this is in reference to stories about infidelity. If this is the case, I can't agree -- I think memoirs often reveal incidents in authors' life that the authors' families may not want revealed, and I don't think that I could judge an author's writing solely by what I may assume his or her family may feel about the revelations within the book.

    On the other hand, Linda Holmes seems to be criticizing Powell for her lack of perspective, within her memoir, on her infidelity, and not her actual revelations --- to Holmes, Powell appears to simply be bragging about her affair, while, on the other hand, also saying that she feels guilty. This guilt, then, appears inauthentic, which is Holmes's issue with the book.

  3. Thanks for your comment, ttt.

    I think Linda Holmes does have an issue (which continues into the comments section) about exposing Powell's affair although her husband is a private person, and I take issue with that as well. On a personal level, how could something that happened this recently be exposed to the world without further shaking the foundation of her marriage?

    While I (probably) would not write a memoir about my childhood to protect my family members, I am not against memoirs or their revelations. In fact, I've read and enjoyed several of them. But memoirs are not different from fiction in that there needs to be a plot, climax, and character growth. The reviews I read about Powell's book seem to say that, unlike her first memoir, her second seems to be missing some important ingredients.

    I believe the author wrote on her coattails before she had some perspective on the events that transpired (Probably why Powell is critiqued for bragging about her affair, but telling she feels guilty without showing remorse). I'm sure it's no accident that the second book wasn't published until after the feel-good "Julie & Julia" movie left the theaters. Julie Powell is a decent writer, and may want to try her hand at fiction until she has more distance for reflection.

  4. I did not see Julie & Julia because I had heard about the book years ago, checked out the blog and found her voice unlikeable.

    Glad I did! I do not think I would appreciate her new book either as it sounds, not to sound super-prissy, *unpleasant*.

    As far as infidelity in memoirs, I enjoyed Ruth Reichl's "Comfort Me with Apples" despite what I considered to be some poor choices on her part. It was only an incidental part of a larger narrative and was treated very simply and without excuses.

    As a teacher who's worked with a student who was a victim of incest, I feel obligated to "defend" Mackenzie Phillips who may well have suffered a terrible, scarring ordeal and whose public declaration may in time open a dialogue about the shame experienced by such victims.

    Anyway, thanks for corroborating my anti-Julie tendencies :)

  5. I only included Mackenzie Phillips because I heard her say that at some point the sexual relationship with her father became "mutual", which didn't seem like she was trying to work through it as much as sell books. Perhaps I'm being harsh.