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“Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession”

Author: Julia Powell

Publisher: Little, Brown & Co.

From the title to the last page, former blogger Julie Powell’s startling second memoir, “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession,” is smart and compelling but frequently coy.

Does she mean cleaving together? Or faithful to the point of clinging? Or separating naturally? Or splitting open as with, say, a cleaver?

It’s soon clear Powell means all four and would rather her readers sort out the relationship-agonizing she recounts in a departure from her breezy, almost Texas-accented first self-exploration.

That blog about cooking hundreds of Julia Child recipes in a cramped kitchen in Queens became a book and later the basis for the popular movie “Julie & Julia,” starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Stanley Tucci.

“Cleaving” opens as Powell starts a new quest — to master the traditionally male skill of butchering, starting with an apprenticeship somewhere in the greater New York area.

She lands at a high-end meat shop in the Catskill foothills, where the owners, one of whom had kept vegan for 17 years, offer Powell a warm and nonjudgmental way station.

We hear her new co-workers’ jokes and the lines she likes best from her favorite TV series. And the conversational recipes that culminate 15 of the book’s vignettes give readers a taste of the home cooking Powell enjoys on four continents as she continues her search.

But the secretary who set out in 2003 to conquer a Julia Child cookbook has nearly vanished, and only superficially is “Cleaving” the tale of a woman finding meaning again.

Like the best elements of the blogosphere, “Cleaving” gives readers an almost tactile sense of its author’s vulnerabilities. Powell acknowledges right away that she is “familiar with the landscape of addiction.”

“Cleaving” also offer less resolution than some readers will want. But Powell’s steadfast femininity and confident voice are refreshing.

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