Let me come right out and say that I adored “Eat, Pray, Love,” Gilbert’s mega-mega spiritual journey memoir, and found her writing style immensely engaging. After reading Eat/Pray, I visited the author’s Web site, read through the FAQ, and fixated on the glimmer of hope she offered for future writings. Yes, Gilbert and her Brazilian lover Felipe from “Eat, Pray, Love” were still together and going strong. ::cue girlish squeals at true love being possible:: And yes, there would be another book, a continuation of the story. In the interim, waiting for her next book to come out, I watched this video from the TED conference detailing her insightful thoughts on the creative process and how she struggled to make peace with the ever-looming specter of “Eat, Pray, Love” ‘ s success informing her next work. Don’t worry, Elizabeth, I thought, your next book will be great.
Well, it pains me to say this, but “Committed” just isn’t on the level of “Eat, Pray, Love.” I would never have read the book if it wasn’t slapped with the Elizabeth Gilbert name. Prior to reading the book myself, I’d read a few reviews claiming that the new memoir wasn’t hot stuff, and my frugal side kicked in, prompting me to check the book out of the library rather than buying it and dog-earing the pages for posterity as I did with “Eat, Pray, Love.”
And yeah, the critics and my frugal side were correct. Gilbert is still a likable writer, but in this new book she isn’t telling a compelling story. It’s mostly a long history of the institution of marriage, a compilation of secondhand academic research and firsthand anecdotal accounts. Sure, the frame story sounds somewhat intriguing: Gilbert and Felipe are jarred from their nontraditional relationship when Homeland Security revokes Felipe’s visa, sending the couple flitting from country to country while the US government slowly tackles the paperwork and Gilbert comes to terms with essentially being forced to marry again.
But, most of the book reads like a combination journal entry and high school research paper. The narrative arc essentially disappears at times. And, while Gilbert is surely an intelligent and thoughtful woman, the revelations in this book didn’t awe me in the manner of “Eat, Pray, Love.” It didn’t feel deep enough to me. I felt like I learned some new facts about the history of marriage and about how marriage at one time was a radical act, but I wasn’t moved beyond the superficial level of “oh, that’s interesting.” In fact, I would have stopped reading the book and returned it if not for the profound respect I have for Elizabeth Gilbert’s prior work.
I suspect that my lack of engagement with the book derives from the unusual position Gilbert finds herself in. While I totally respect her ambivalence to a second marriage, I don’t get it in my gut. I can’t relate to Gilbert’s need to write a book talking herself into marriage, because I’m not even close to experiencing those feelings towards marriage. And, I suspect many women would probably jump at the chance to marry a Felipe. Gilbert is to be commended for thinking outside the cultural box, but it makes it harder to engage with an audience who largely embraces marriage, especially marriage to an attractive, loving soulmate.
On the other hand, “Eat, Pray, Love” tapped into visceral, universal feelings of religious yearning and the compelling call to journey that many of us experience and few of us are able to pursue. In Eat/Pray, Gilbert’s experiences were literally transcendent. She experiences the bliss of samadhi, she agonizes on the bathroom floor, internally hearing the voice of God. The scene where she forgives her ex-husband still gives me the chills to re-read. Why? I think she wrote it better, I think she was working with better narrative material, and I think she touched something absolutely universal in her readers.
The best parts of the new memoir “Committed” were the beginning, dealing with the Felipe visa setup, and the ending, describing the inevitable wedding. I was tempted to outright skip the stuff in between, but I read it through because I was really really holding out hope for something amazing. Maybe next time. Realistically though, how many truly life-changing experiences can one have in a lifetime and still be genuine? I recall reading somewhere that Gilbert is working on a novel for her next book.