|My Year of Meats|
by Ruth Ozeki
[Amazon U.S. / Amazon Canada]
Alongside Jane's narrative is the story of Akiko, wife of Jane's boss and a very delicate woman struggling with abuse, infertility and an eating disorder. Her husband forces her to watch "My American Wife" and rate it as well as preparing all the recipes to help her increase her weight. His actions, however, cause her only to grow further away from him, and she becomes emotionally invested in the families Jane selects from the show. She grows out of her complacency and begins to really think about what she wants for her life.
Toward the end of the novel, the documentary side of the story becomes quite harsh as Jane exposes the truth behind the chemicals, hormones and terrible conditions the animals are living in. Soon, it becomes her personal mission not just to hint at the dark side of the industry, but to expose it fully to the public.
I enjoyed My Year of Meats, though at times I felt it focused too much on the anti-industry theme and not as much on the characters as I wished. Still, it was an interesting way of presenting a topic that the average person might not be likely to pick up a book about. For the most part, I liked the characters - Akiko was sympathetic and well-written; Jane's perspective was much harder to identify with, but interesting nonetheless. I enjoyed the minor characters like Miss Helen, whom we saw very briefly but received a very realistic impression of. Others, like Mr. Ueno, seemed to fall a bit flatter.
All in all, it was a good read and a good length for this type of story. Toward the end, I was growing slightly weary of Jane's point of view, but the Akiko scenes eased this considerably. Of course, once I had finished the book, I was also immediately considering veganism! Perhaps it's just a weak will, but Jane's narrative had me wanting to start myself on a shojin ryori diet right away. I think I eat too much red meat...