Monday Memoir: Deer Hunting in Paris

Posted 9 December, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Memoir: Deer Hunting in ParisDeer Hunting in Paris by Paula Young Lee
Published by Travelers' Tales on November 19th 2013
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Essays & Travelogues, Hunting, Personal Memoirs, Sports & Recreation
Pages: 360
Goodreads
four-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

What happens when a Korean-American preacher’s kid refuses to get married, travels the world, and quits being vegetarian? She meets her polar opposite on an online dating site while sitting at a café in Paris, France and ends up in Paris, Maine, learning how to hunt. A memoir and a cookbook with recipes that skewer human foibles and celebrates DIY food culture, Deer Hunting in Paris is an unexpectedly funny exploration of a vanishing way of life in a complex cosmopolitan world. Sneezing madly from hay fever, Lee recovers her roots in rural Maine by running after a headless chicken, learning how to sight in a rifle, shooting skeet, and butchering animals. Along the way, she figures out how to keep her boyfriend’s conservative Republican family from “mistaking” her for a deer and shooting her at the clothesline.

This memoir is warm and funny. It’s not crazy laugh-like-a-maniac funny like Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson but I think it’s because I was better able to relate to some of the moments of absurdity. (Choosing the proper chicken from a French butcher, for one.)


By her own account Lee’s memoir is not the traditional female travel journal. 

I wasn’t looking for love, drugs, yoga classes or any other “girl” narratives attached the stories about free spirits bravely traveling alone … When your trips abroad are being paid for by your father/divorce settlement/publisher, you’re not free. You’re expensive.

So true! This is one of the few recent memoirs that I’ve read that hasn’t had a blog precede it, which I think is kind of amazing these days. It means that the writing and stories have to stand on their own and for the most part they do. Her independence gives a bit of feminist flair to the book, though I’m not sure that this was necessarily her intent. 

It’s enjoyable how the stories are strung together with recipes ala Like Water for Chocolate, there are at least two recipes for venison heart, though since I’ve left Chicago I’m not sure I could find a butcher to supply me with one. In addition to the recipes, the narrative is also pulled together with information about artwork, language, literature, nineteenth century periodicals, and want ads in Uncle Henry’s. 

There are times that the passages on hunting seem to wax philosophical, but I didn’t find this overly intrusive or even inappropriate.  Lee’s description of removing the tenderloins from the deer carcass borders on a religious experience, she shows a deeper understanding and reverence for the deer than most modern Americans.  The passages on hunting and guns are written in a way that is accessible to those of us that can’t hit the broad side of a barn and prefer books to sunlight. (Yeah, both of those are descriptors of me.) 

She writes with an authority on food that makes my mouth water. I can’t imagine anyone but the hardest of hardcore PETA members taking any issue with the hunting portrayed in this book. Her willingness to slaughter and prepare animals ‘from scratch’ underscores a quiet courage and determination that pervades the entire book. 

I only had two real complaints with this book. The first was the title. I probably wouldn’t have even taken it off the shelf if I was just cruising a bookstore. Despite how much I love the cover, the title makes it sound like it’s written by someone with political leanings to the far right. Ironically, (though perhaps this was the author’s intent) this is the exact opposite of who Lee presents herself to be. Lucky for me, through the magic of review copies, I was able to get past the title and actually read the substance. 

My other issue with the book is that for the first three-quarters or so it’s difficult to pin down exactly how much time has elapsed between events or when exactly her childhood is taking place. This may be partially due to my casual reading, but I generally don’t have that issue. 

Overall, this book is an enjoyable read. Just make sure you have steaks in the fridge ready to grill. 

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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