Thursday, April 22, 2010

Meats of the Year

I want to read more female authors. I suggest you recommend to me some of your favorites. Here are ones I don't need recommended (because I've already read them / like them): Annie Proulx, Marilynne Robinson, Jane Smiley, Lorrie Moore and Shirley Jackson. I'm finally gonna read some Flannery O'Connor and Barbara Kingsolver. I remain a fan of Sarah Vowell. And as for female philosophers, I find Simone de Beauvoir stimulating and look forward to reading Hannah Arendt. I didn't love Carson McCullers so very much, as writers go. Oh, and has anyone heard about "The Irresistible Henry House" by Lisa Grunwald? It sounds like it has a very "The World According to Garp" quality, which I consider a good thing. Pat Barker's "Regeneration" (I haven't read the others in the series) was good historical fiction. The point is, I'm not a stranger to female authors, and of course I've more or less read the classics (Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, Mary Shelley, Edna O'Brien, Jane Austen, Lorraine Hansberry, Harper Lee). But I need more ideas, because I'm greedy.

And to get to the main purpose of this post, finally, I read the novel "My Year of Meats" by Ruth L. Ozeki (See? She's a female author, so it ties to the preceding). Despite some flaws, it really succeeded at drawing me in, and the main character, Jane Takagi-Little, might as well actually exist she felt so real and true. So too did most of the remaining ensemble of characters: her camera crew; "John Wayno" or Joichi Ueno, the advertising rep; Sloan, Jane's love interest; Jane's Japanese mother; Akiko, Ueno's wife and in effect tormented slave; and the remaining individuals who are filmed for the Japanese "documentary" television series My American Wife!, which Jane eventually lands the job of directing.

My favorite parts of the novel are the ones that deal with Jane and her documentary subjects, and the interplay via memorandum with the production company and Joichi Ueno, who represents the concerns of the American meat conglomerate BEEF-EX, which is using the television series specifically as a conveyance to inspire Japanese housewives to serve more meat. The television documentary then is meant to display American values such as "wholesomeness" while simultaneously selling the idea of "Deliciousness of Meat." Ueno and BEEF-EX exhort Jane with the dictum, "Beef is Best," which concerns the meat they would most like to see prepared by the documentary subjects, who are thus filmed living their American lives and cooking "wholesome" meat-centered American meals.

All sorts of bad things obscure the focus of this seemingly innocuous idea of "wholesomeness," questions of what is "wholesome" and who best reflects that ideal are paramount and well-executed (if a little bit predictably hyper-pluralistic (not saying that's a bad thing!)). As I see it, where the story begins to lose its footing is when it begins to tilt to the preachy side of storytelling. For the most part Ozeki achieves this effect tastefully, but as the novel builds to its climax, involving the unscrupulous underbelly and practices of the American meat farming industry, one is sort of uneasily taken from the narrative, and the story rings a bit false, all of a sudden. I guess what I'm saying is I feel the issue could have been inserted into the narrative less bluntly, and therefore less awkwardly. The story becomes a heavy dose of, "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS / IS HAPPENING!" And while I understand and for the most part agree people need to be made aware of the issues at stake, it could have been more tactfully achieved, is all. That's what I'm saying. I mean no offense to Ozeki, who on the whole wrote a stellar novel.

"My Year of Meats" also does have a kind of deus ex machina finish, but I think one that is ultimately plausible. So I'll just shut up now.


  1. Iris Murdoch.

  2. I am so all over that! In the, you know, follow up sort of way.

  3. J.K. Rowling Matt, duh. The greatist female author of all time. Sheesh.