Print Reviews
Julie & Julia
by Julie Powell
Little, Brown, and Company (2005)
Julie & Julia
4 / 10
Julie/Julia is based on Powell's blog, which chronicled her attempt to complete every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Facing thirty, bored by rotating temp jobs, and contemplating having a child, Powell sets up an interesting premise about a modern woman grasping for simplicity and meaning through food. Unfortunately, she makes many mistakes in her presentation, and what might have been a charming story is lost under Powell's own ambitions.

Distractingly, Powell intersperses her own stories with fictional accounts of Child and her husband, Paul. Powell draws on nearly no factual material when shaping mostly irrelevant stories about Child's courtship and eventual desire to learn French cooking; rather, Powell casts Child in her own image, as an unmotivated sailor mouth who falls into food by accident. In real life, Child was an active volunteer, disciplined writer, and a member of the OSS. Powell's attempts to cast her as a slacker undermine her own credibility, and make her look whiny and unlikable by comparison.

And is she ever unlikable. Powell comes across as defensive and deeply cynical. She is married, but quick to remind readers that she's not that kind of married person who likes NASCAR and listens to country music. She's a secretary, but not the boring, dead-end kind—she has hobbies, like, uh, drinking! And watching TV. Powell has a bone to pick with nearly everyone, from her boss, who reasonably asks that she keeps her paid job out of her blog, to her friends, whose decisions she criticizes at every turn, to that bitch Julia Child, who tells a reporter that she isn't a fan of Powell. Powell reacts to September 11, the Iraq war, the NYC blackout, plumbing failure, a maggot infestation, fertility problems, and chopping up a live lobster with the same sarcastic giggle and emotional distance. The only times she offers any true candor is when describing her newfound fame, as she lets slip a little pleasure over her blog's audience and relates her interviews with media. It all goes to her head rather quickly. At no point does Powell seem to realize that she and Child are not the same person, or that her stunt might be just that. Rather, she closes her book by telling the reader that "you can hate me now" for all the success that she is sure to have now that she has…done what, exactly?

The cooking keeps the story engaging. Powell extracts marrow using ordinary kitchen tools, debones an entire duck, and whips up a seemingly endless series of aspics. Sometimes she meets success, but just as often, aspics refuse to set, milk spoils, and apparently perfect executions taste foul. Most interesting are the dishes that novice cook Powell has never encountered before; when they work or do not work, the reader is never quite sure if this is due to her cooking or to modern tastes. Powell is fortunate, though, that she never has to consider the limitations that most other novices would upon tackling this project; neither she nor her husband seem to have any food allergies or dislikes, and she has no problem buying eight-dollar butter or meat at eighty dollars a pound on a secretary's salary. A better book might have kept the focus on the kitchen, rather than relegating it to the background. Unfortunately, Powell's personal story takes center stage, while no lessons are learned, and no conflicts are resolved.
Posted by: Christie Church

Print Reviews (December 4th, 2006)