I’m falling behind on my book reviews!! I read this back in June and loved it. Ruth Ozeki is a really really great author – her Booker Prize Shortlisted novel A Tale for the Time Being was my first experience with her, and I loved it (Ahem – I thought Ozeki should have won over Luminaries – cough cough). My Year of Meats was great for different reasons though. For starters, Ozeki is a bi-racial woman born in Connecticut to an American father and a Japanese mother, and now splits her time between British Columbia, Canada (where I’m from) and New York. The protagonist of MYOM strongly reflects this, being female, bi-racial, incredibly tall, androgynous, non-monogamous and politically radical. There are not enough protagonists like this!! It’s better than reading about a magical unicorn! And what’s even better, Ozeki pulls it off without feeling gimmicky, so put 10,000 marks in the ‘pro’ column already.
Then, there’s the storyline; Jane (the amazing protagonist) is a journalist working for a Japanese company that has partnered with BEEF-EX, an American meat company, to create a television show entitled My American Wife! as a way to promote American beef products to Japan. Jane’s job is to work on the episodes, which feature a typical “all American” family with a segment showing the wife cooking a tasty beef dish. As with many TV shows, the producers want to feature only white, middle-upper class “wholesome” “normal” American families, and only want to see them eating “high-class” meats like beef. No lamb, pork or any of the other “lesser” meats. Jane, who herself is fairly unconventional by many of society’s standards, starts steering the show away from the guidelines and wants to feature more diversity. She makes an episode about a family with adopted children from a variety of racial backgrounds, an episode with lesbian vegetarians, and approaches a Black family that is not middle class, and gets in trouble for all of it. Finally she visits a slaughterhouse to shoot footage for an episode exposing problems in the meat industry and shizz really hits the fan. Award 100,000,000 more points for awesomeness.
Running parallel to Jane’s storyline is a connected storyline featuring Akiko, the wife of one of the My American Wife! producers (and all-round dickhead). He demands that she watch the show, rate the episodes and cook the meals for him. Trigger warning for depictions of spousal abuse during Akiko’s scenes, but they are pivotal to the plot and not gratuitous. Akiko watches the diverse episodes Jane produces and it changes her life.
Overall I thought this book was outstanding. I thought Ozeki was successful in opening a dialogue on gender and/or cultural stereotypes, and I loved that Jane strove to push the envelope in her episodes by featuring couples with adopted multicultural children, Black families, and yes, even lesbian vegetarians. I also thought it was really spot on the way Ozeki showed the struggle to maintain honesty/transparency in the media today. The original scope of My American Wife! was so limited it almost seemed ridiculous, though I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that many shows on tv today exercise the same prejudices in selecting individuals to represent their corporate products. A zillion thumbs up!