Oct 3, 2009

The Bitter Taste of Julia's French Cooking

It's actually a good book, this Julie&Julia. Original concept, alternately mouthwatering or bilious, outrageous characters, and sharply written. I've laughed out loud more often than any book since Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" chapter about turkey breeding. But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It's because negativity is just such the easy cop-out humour. "The world sucks - isn't that funny?" "Gee I'm so fat, my boss is a leech, we haven't had sex since the last lamb kidney souffle...". Why do we thrive on Woody Allen self-denigration and Jerry Seinfeld put-downs? Why do we still allow the genre of "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits" to permeate our cultural mindset?

I've written elsewhere about not watching horror and violence movies because they make us start seeing the world in that scary way, and I feel the same way about negative humour. After half an hour of the TV stand-up comedy during my hospital stay, I started to believe that mothers-in-law really do install webcams in our bathrooms to see if we clean the toilet bowl, and that all of us men are insufferably underserved and pinned down by our fat wives. It did make me laugh, but I just don't need that cheap high when I could find some equally funny situational or relational humour in my Mary Tyler Moore Collection (yes, I own the first 3 seasons). In grad school, no matter how bad the day had been I would watch Mary reruns at 1:30 and 2am and go to bed truly believing that love is all around.

The last straw with Julie came at recipe 465. She had just spent pages weaving a beautiful rich tapestry about the building of community in a disaster, and about how her own project had brought people together. She ended with,

"Maybe just believing in goodness generates a tiny bit of the stuff, so that by being so foolish as to believe in our better natures, if just for a day, we actually contribute to the sum total of generosity in the universe."

Beautiful. But she undoes it all in the very next cop-out line: "That's naive, isn't it? Dammit, I hate it when I do that."

Julie, why did you back away from beauty; a beauty you created for us? I don't even believe your little cover-up, so why did you feel it was necessary to step away from a strong statement of faith?

I suppose my writing will never reach the bestseller list because it's too happy, but that's OK. I hope I don't hide from difficult issues and challenges. But in the end, I hope that my writing and parenting and life and person do exactly what Julie suggests and Mary models - contributes to the sum total of generosity in the universe.

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