Julie & Julia: A Tasty Book or Literary Olestra?
To be perfectly honest, it's all Meryl Streep's fault.
I was mindlessly checking out upcoming movies on Yahoo! when I stumbled onto the trailer for Meryl's upcoming movie adaptation of the memoir Julie & Julia by Julie Powell, based off her apparently ultra popular blog which was just unpopular enough that I had never heard of it until I caught Meryl Streep playing the Julia of the title, Julia Child to be specific.
From what I gleaned from the bouncy trailer, the movie and memoir detailed Julie Powell's various culinary misadventures as she masochistically decided to cook all the recipes within the pages of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year or as Powell states on the cover, "365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen."
With a premise fluffier than souffle, I figured it was a good book to read after surviving the wonderful if immensely depressing Revolutionary Road, another book I only heard of because of a film trailer which makes me one of the most infinitely lazy former English majors.
I quickly tore into the book with its appropriately tasteful turquoise-ish cover with a bowl, kooky whisk and the title written in suitably chick-lit script. One of my biggest concerns, that the transition from blog to memoir would consist essentially of nothing more difficult than "cut and paste" was assuaged when I started reading. The book, though still written in a casual, occasionally profanity-laced prose very much of a blog background, was less a retread of Powell's blog but a streamlining into a coherent, if occasionally frustrating read.
To me, there is no greater sin than a mediocre book that had the possibility of being great. Powell's book neatly lands in that category as Powell succumbs to a lot of chick-lit tropes within telling her own engaging story. Readers expecting the focus to be squarely on the cooking will be disappointed as there are many tangents about Powell's charming if completely unnecessary group of friends and their love lives and affairs. When the memoir drifts off into these little episodes, it completely loses sight of what probably brought people to the book in the first place: the cooking.
When the book focuses on the cooking, it's a great, breezy read. And for the most part, the book doesn't necessarily go where you think it will, which was nice, particularly Julia Child's reaction to Julie's project and Julie's reaction to Child's death. The fact that Powell refuses to become Mitch Albom maudlin with that event shows her to be a smart writer.
Overall, the book was less like a fine meal and more like a nice drink, something that Powell enjoys a great deal in the book: it's got a little fizz and a little buzz, but overall the calories and the content are a little on the empty side.
It's said that the movie of the version of Julie & Julia will incorporate more of Julia Child's life into the plotline, something that would've made the memoir an infinitely more entertaining thing.
Julie & Julia opens August 7th. Trailer below: