My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki was my inaugural reading selection for 2014, and if it is any indication of how my reading is going to go this year, two things are clear:
1. It’s going to be a banner book year; and
2. I’m going to spend a whole lot of time crying
Ever since I read A Tale for the Time Being, I have been totally enamored with Ozeki and her very charming writing style. My Year of Meats only reaffirmed my feelings. It was published in 1998 and clearly marks the time in Ozeki’s life when she transitioned from her career in documentary film-making to (thankfully) one in writing fiction. Her previous work in film and her dedication to research is evident in both books and, I think, the root cause of the richly-detailed-and-multi-layered-narrative-paired-with-excerpts-from-other-works-paired-with-factual-data style she’s developed. I think it also explains why she’s never satisfied with telling a story from only one perspective, choosing instead to use multiple narrators in order to enhance and show all angles of the central story. Indeed, her novels read like documentaries, as if she’s collecting artifacts then taking them home to place them on her bookcase until a curious listener wants to hear the provenance. In MYOM the artifacts are the recipes (like the one printed on the other side of this letter) and clips from the T.V. show My American Wife!, while A Tale for the Time Being uses a journal that washes up on shore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox.
“You never know who it’s going to be, or what they’ll bring, but whatever it is, it’s always exactly what is needed.” Ruth Ozeki, My Year of Meats
As for the crying, it’s simple enough to say that moments in the book touched me deeply. I won’t give them away now but I will say that Ozeki NEVER shies away from the unseemly aspects of human nature, and has a tendency to mine both the Japanese and North American cultures for those very dark desires and traditions that should shake us to the core – from sexual practice to the politics of meat consumption, environmental awareness and nuclear holocaust. As a Canadian, I have to confess that I still find aspects of Japanese culture disturbing (is it just me?), but more often just plain confusing. So, if you happen to be Japanese, I would love to hear from you, especially if you’ve also read A Tale for the Time Being, because the bullying in that novel still haunts me all these months later.
PS – if you make the Coca-cola roast, pls. invite me!