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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki 
7th-Sep-2007 12:02 pm
Ozeki, Ruth L. My Year of Meats. 1998. New York: Penguin, 1999.
          Summary: For an entire year, the biracial and bilingual Jane Takagi-Little works on the US beef export industry-sponsored Japanese TV show My American Wife!, learning a bit about human nature and a lot about the potential dangers of hormone- and drug-contaminated meat in the process. By the end, she has had a miscarriage but decides to try again and has helped the wife of her cruel BEEF-EX boss find happiness away from him.
          Comments: What a fun book! At least, that's what I thought when, early in the novel, Jane is busy filming a Mexican-American boy with his pet pig named Supper. Ozeki has a gift for gracefully negotiating multiple cultures, genders, sexualities, narrative voices, and literary styles and turning them into a single coherent narrative--all with the apparent ease of a figure skater gliding along the ice. Moreover, she provides readers with a blatant (not to mention disturbing) insider look at the sort of control an advertiser can exert over TV programming. Fortunately, her ideas for subverting the stated agenda of BEEF-EX are both clever and inspiring, and as a reader you know that the corporate agenda isn't entirely a foregone conclusion. The tug-of-war between the creator and the underwriter were fascinating.
          Alas, the novel takes an abrupt turn about halfway through, switching to scare tactics and revealing the downright unhealthy and at times nauseating business of beef to become the modern version of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Hormones and antibiotics and cancer and infertility and pollution and evironmental degredation, oh my! What before was lighthearted yet humanizing becomes preachy and dehumanizing, and it's painfully obvious that Ozeki let her story run away from itself. The book, for a thick sheaf of pages, ceases to be a novel and becomes a documentary--and this, I feel, is to its detriment.
          Luckily, the author manages to bring to together in the end; the (ambiguously) happy ending for both women was in keeping with the spirit of the novel's better half. And, while Ozeki seems to partake in the women's literature fantasy that children under the right circumstances can be a panacea for all, at least she takes great pains to explore alternative family structures (adopted children, lesbian mothers, single mothers, etc.) and grant them equal, if not more, validity than the traditional one.
          Notes: trade paperback, 8th printing, signed by the author
          Rating: 7.5/10 - A fun read that, despite its flaws, goes by so fast that you'll wish it were longer.
7th-Sep-2007 06:15 pm (UTC)
WOW. You are the only other person I know of who has read this!
7th-Sep-2007 07:01 pm (UTC)
It was a the common reading one of the years I was in college. I never read it then (obviously), but I kept it in mind.
8th-Sep-2007 12:02 am (UTC)
This book was Mount Holyoke summer reading in 2004. :)
8th-Sep-2007 01:19 am (UTC)
I know. Saw it in the Quarterly.

Did you go to hear the author speak?
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