Julie Metz’s memoir begins with her husband Henry’s early and unexpected death from a pulmonary embolism. Suddenly Julie was a widow at age 44 with a six-year-old daughter to raise alone. Additionally, in going through her husband’s things she discovered that Henry, unbeknownst to her, had been repeatedly unfaithful with multiple partners.
The author Nathan Englander, in a recent interview, said that what he liked to explore in a novel was the idea of “conflicting realities – not positions, not viewpoints, but distinct realities – functioning under one roof.” This is a perfect description of what was going on in Julie’s non-fiction life for her entire twelve-year marriage. As Julie realized, “There had been deception and self-deception.”
What Julie found by reading through Henry’s emails and journals was that Henry was searching for extremes of experience. He wanted umami, the subject of the book on which he had been working. Umami is a Japanese word that translates as “perfection” (albeit usually as it relates to food). Julie explains, “Umami is the feeling of mouthwatering deliciousness during, and complete satiety after, a good meal. Umami is the taste of protein, caressed by fat – the pleasurable viscous taste of a meat stew, a rich sauce, or a morsel of creamy cheese. There is umami in a piece of sun-riipened fruit, or a glass of complex wine.” Umami is the embodiment of perfection.
Henry had been on a “mission” to hunt down umami and used this as an excuse to travel, to go to the finest restaurants, to meet up with other women, to stay at great hotels, and incidentally, to leave a $40,000 debt for Julie when he died. After years of contemplating what went wrong with Henry, Julie concluded that “We cannot experience umami in every moment – but we can remain open to ‘perfect’ moments and appreciate them when they appear….’”
Julie doesn’t flinch in telling her story. She opens herself up and exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly. She expresses emotions that anyone who has suffered a loss can recognize. Her recovery from the shocks of her marriage is a long process – in fact, taking up the whole book. But I rarely felt bored or impatient. She helps you feel that, even if you aren’t “perfect,” you’re probably pretty normal. Good read.
Published by Hachette Books, 2009