Jane Takagi-Little, the stubborn and resourceful heroine of Ruth Ozeki's didactic first novel, My Year Of Meats, is a struggling documentary filmmaker who takes a job coordinating a Japanese television series sponsored by BEEF-EX, a lobbying group for the American meat industry. The show, ecstatically titled My American Wife!, traverses the heartland each week, visiting "wholesome and attractive" (read: white, upper-middle-class) families who share their special meat recipes, including such stomach-churners as Coca-Cola Roast and El Quicko Sausage Surprise. But when Takagi-Little finally gets a chance to direct, she brazenly defies her bosses with more authentic episodes on "second-class" families, one of which exposes the illegal use of estrogen hormones by cattle ranchers. Though intended as an irreverent, cross-cultural attack on the follies of American image-making, My Year Of Meats is more like a documentarian's rosiest fantasy. Ozeki, herself a filmmaker, contrives a scenario in which Takagi-Little gets to uncover hidden truths about beef, take subversive jabs at the powers that be, and have a profound impact on a battered Japanese housewife. On top of that, she also enjoys a satisfying sex life. Ozeki has an assured, fluid writing style, but the heart of the book—an impassioned polemic on the dangers of beef—is better suited for non-fiction. Her novel turns out to be about as convincing as an especially glossy, BEEF-EX-approved My American Wife! episode.