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The Butcher Shop Girl: A Memoir for Misfits & Mavericks

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A compelling story as much about place (Canada) as about person in a memoir that explains how meat cutting and exotic dancing are similar

The Butcher Shop Girl: A Memoir for Misfits & Mavericks opens with a scene set in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where the author is trying to escape her employer, the owner of an exotic dancer club. But this book isn’t about Bolivia and it isn’t exclusively about exotic dancing; it’s about a small-town girl from central Canada who is in charge of her own destiny.


I picked up The Butcher Shop Girl because the title reminded me of a memoir written by the author of Julie & Julia. The author of a best-selling memoir that was turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, Julie Powell wrote a second memoir that was not nearly so well-received: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession. Cleaving is about a woman who works in a butcher shop.


Carmen Kissel-Verrier, the author of The Butcher Shop Girl, tells a better story about a woman who works in a butcher shop. Kissel-Verrier grew up on a farm in Canada and followed in her mother’s footsteps, working in a slaughter house, and initially, she’s proud to do it. Until the day her classmates tour the facility on a field trip, the telling of which explains the book’s title:


“The meat cutters, who had become like family to me by that time, were working that day, slicing a side of beef. All the kids winced at the high-pitched sound of the saw cutting through bone and turned away from the sight of something that had become such a huge part of who I was. Their abhorrence to see animal flesh crushed me. I showed them what I did after school, and what was a big part of my life, only to be met with jeers and sneers. And once I showed them, they never let it go. I was known from then on as the dirty butcher shop girl.”


The Butcher Shop Girl is described as “a compelling memoir of resilience and persistence that captures the vivacious spirit of a small-town girl determined to succeed by any means necessary.” Well, not any means necessary, but the memoir does recount Kissel-Verrier’s rather unusual and fascinating journey from farm to oil fields to exotic dance clubs.


As a native of Minnesota, I especially appreciated her descriptions of remote Canada. The book contains a touching story about the fate of a calf she raised for 4-H, accounts of “bush parties” where teenagers in remote Canada gathered to carouse, descriptions of winter that involved temperatures of minus 30 or 40 degrees Celsius (whether it’s on the Fahrenheit or Celsius scale, that’s darn cold), wearing Wrangler jeans, why “making hay while the sun shines” is a saying, and a biker bar called the Northpole. This book is as much about place as it is about person, and Kissel-Verrier immerses the reader in the narrative. I liked this book the same upbeat way Kissel-Verrier describes the dressing room of a strip club: “I felt like I was backstage at a theater. It may have been a little sleazier and a little sketchier, but it felt the same and featured rum!”


Eventually, Kissel-Verrier figures out the big money lies in the oil industry. The story moves into SAGD thermal oil harvest operations and cold flow oil, and Kissel-Verrier does justice to these rather arcane professions. And then she figures out how to make even bigger money as an exotic dancer just as the live nude entertainment industry is waning before an onslaught of online pornography. She succinctly describes the history of the industry in a single sentence: “It started out by showing a tiny bit of ankle in the mid 1880s and was collapsing in a cesspool of dissolved fantasy by the year 2000.”


Just when the reader might wonder how a meat cutter and an exotic dancer are in the same story, let alone the same person, Kissel-Verrier ties it all together: “At the farm or when I was slicing meat in the butcher shop, there was no modesty. It was just biology. It was just physiology… So taking my clothes off and getting the money felt oddly similar.” Anything but a victim, she accurately describes the power a (successful) exotic dancer has over her clientele.


With lines like “hair so bleached it looked crispy enough to crumble in a strong breeze,” Kissel-Verrier is a compelling storyteller. I can’t speak for the ebook, but the interior of the printed version of The Butcher Shop Girl is lovely, the editing is tight and each chapter begins with a relevant quote from sources like Jane Austen and George Washington. It’s well done.


This book is an example of why I like memoir so much. The Butcher Shop Girl gave me a different perspective on the world through Kissel-Verrier’s unique lens. 

Reviewed by

An independent author who has written and published four books, Monica Lee also edits and designs books for other self-published authors. A huge fan of memoirs and true life stories in particular.

ESCAPING BOLIVIA

About the author

Carmen Kissel-Verrier was born in rural Alberta, Canada. These days, she is a technical writer and a graduate of Mount Royal University. Carmen still loves a wild time spent with peculiar people and appreciates a good ribeye steak. She remains fascinated by the diversity of the human spirit. view profile

Published on November 05, 2020

Published by FriesenPress Canada

100000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

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