’Til Death, Probably
Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with MarriageElizabeth Gilbert
(Viking · $26.95)
If you’ve been to a bookstore in the past four years, you’re at least glancingly familiar with Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. The story of the then thirtysomething author’s disastrous divorce and search for fulfillment was a breakaway bestseller, garnering the praise of none other than Oprah. It is now being made into a movie starring Julia Roberts, realizing what is, arguably, the apex of American pop-cultural achievement.
At the time of Eat, Pray, Love’s writing, Gilbert already had a collection of short stories, a novel and a biography under her belt. Newly divorced, she secured an advance from her publisher to travel around the world and write about the experience. Critics noted the book’s irrepressible readability while questioning the authenticity of a personal history that was, at least in part, constructed for the sake of having something about which to write. To be fair, that’s a huge trend in memoirs right now; rather than reflecting on how what you’ve lived through has made you who you are, you manufacture something to experience (preferably something most people would never get to do or have to do) and call it your life.
Critics noted the book’s irrepressible readability while questioning the authenticity of a personal history that was, at least in part, constructed for the sake of having something about which to write.
Eat, Pray, Love sees Gilbert seeking enlightenment through travel, prayer, food and, yes, love. Love, she exclaims, though she thought she was through with it. The end of the book finds her head over heels with an older Brazilian man she calls Felipe. Fans of EPL (and there are millions) wondered, What happened next? Where did Gilbert’s road lead?
Turns out, it led to another book. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage was released this month. It begins with the couple finding out that, per the United States’ increasingly stringent visa and travel regulations, Felipe cannot return to the country unless he’s prepared to marry Gilbert. Though they’re both world travelers, the author wants to put down roots in her native Northeast. Problem is, both are divorcees who don’t want to tie the knot. What to do?
For those finding themselves either in or just out of a partnership that fails to work, Gilbert’s notes on the nature of modern marriage can serve as commiseration; it’s not just you, she says. We’ve all got the capacity to screw up.
What Gilbert and Felipe do is decide they will indeed get married, bumming around Asia until the mountains of paperwork are in order, a process that could take months or years. Though the choice has been made, Gilbert feels as if she still needs to understand the nature of marriage more before committing to it. This begins her stint as an amateur anthropologist and historian, asking village women what marriage means to them, as well as providing to us, the readers, a history of Western coupledom.
This is where the question of audience is important. Gilbert is a likable writer and a hard worker, but for some, her findings may come across as far from revelatory. Namely, that through most of history, marriage was an arrangement built not on love, but on property and security. She also points out that in those parts of the world with lower divorce rates, men and women still adhere to rigid, prescribed gender roles, exchanging freedom for stability.
However, what can seem like a retread of Gender Studies 101 for some may spark searching in others. Gilbert admits that before her first marriage in her twenties, she gave little thought to what the linking meant, beyond that they loved each other. For those finding themselves either in or just out of a partnership that fails to work, Gilbert’s notes on the nature of modern marriage can serve as commiseration; it’s not just you, she says. We’ve all got the capacity to screw up.
Gilbert is most captivating when she’s purely honest. In describing how she fled from a group of increasingly hostile child beggars in Cambodia, she writes: “When I reached my hotel, I dived into my room and locked the door behind me and pushed my face into a towel and trembled like a shitty little coward for the rest of the night.” The fragility of her situation is clearest in moments like this. And it’s much more engaging than when she discusses why she doesn’t want to have children, which comes across as more practiced than sincere. But then again, because we’re still a culture that’s surprised by the choice to be child-free, she might well have had to say things like “My womb did not come equipped with that famously ticking clock” so often it’s become rote.
Committed doesn’t break new ground on the topic of marriage, nor is it the story of an Everywoman struggling to begin her life anew. What it is, though, is a satisfying follow-up for fans of Eat, Pray, Love that finds its heroine healed through the affection of a Brazilian; and that, my friends, is a lesson we should all take to heart.
Bookworks presents Elizabeth Gilbert
Wednesday, Feb. 3, 7 p.m.
UNM SUB Ballroom
Tickets ($30, $35 couple) available at bkwrks.com