Author of 'Eat, Pray, Love' returns with 'Committed,' musings on marriage
"Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert moves from heartbreak-triggered travel to a contemplation of marriage in her new book, "Committed."
Special to The Seattle Times
Elizabeth GilbertGilbert speaks at the YWCA's 2010 Inspire luncheon, a benefit for YWCA, noon, March 16, followed by book signing, Meydenbauer Center, 11100 N.E. Sixth St., Bellevue; $150 minimum suggested donation (206-490-4378 or www.ywcaworks.org).
'Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage'
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Viking, 285 pp., $26.95
An author following up her surprise best-seller is damned if she does, damned if she doesn't.
If the new book closely resembles the blockbuster, critics grouse that she's got only one story to tell. If the author flies off in a different direction, devoted fans waiting for more of the same are crushed. Talk about pressure.
Elizabeth Gilbert has managed to split the difference. In "Committed," she delivers a book packed with the same sort of self-absorbed, rapid-fire, remarkably entertaining first-person narrative that made "Eat, Pray, Love" appeal to so many, while devoting considerable space to her enlightening historical and sociological research on the institution of marriage.
When last we saw Gilbert, she'd walked off into the sunset with the fascinating "Felipe" (in real life, José Nunes). A Brazilian gem dealer with Australian citizenship, Felipe was a fellow world traveler with whom Gilbert shared many values, including a deep-seated suspicion of marriage. (Both were dues-paying members of the Divorced & Scarred Club.)
Everything was going along swimmingly until Felipe's lack of U.S. citizenship got the attention of the authorities and he was barred from entering this country with Gilbert. Marriage, it seemed, was the only way for the couple to live here legally.
One problem: An American who wants to marry a noncitizen who has been barred from entry is regarded with only slightly more respect than is accorded someone running a kiddie-porn Web site. Upshot: the couple spent 10 months roaming Australia and Southeast Asia while the U.S. government investigated their case.
Gilbert spent the time poring over books and journals (helpfully shipped from the States by her sister the historian), using hard facts to ward off her amorphous fear of matrimony. In between her findings, Gilbert parcels out the personal stuff many of her "Eat, Pray, Love" fans were waiting for:
"Because here is something I know for certain about myself, as I near the age of forty. I can no longer do infatuation. It kills me. ... But I loved the high of infatuation in my youth, and so I made a habit of it. ... I sought passion everywhere. I freebased it."
When Gilbert feeds us bits from the colorful history of marriage, the result is a condensed and chatty lesson. Imagine hearing expert Stephanie Coontz (The Evergreen College professor who made a splash in 2005 with her intelligent "Marriage, A History") read her work aloud — after sucking on a helium balloon. Lots of fascinating history, only funnier.
Gilbert eventually makes a sort of peace with the idea of matrimony and, as a bonus, comes up with a fresh angle on the same-sex marriage issue:
"Think of it! Marriage is on the decline everywhere, all across the Western world. ... [But] just when it appears that the institution will wither slowly into obscurity due to a general lack of social interest, in come the gay couples, asking to be included! ... Why not recruit them by the vanload to sweep in on heroic wings and save the flagging and battered old institution of matrimony from a bunch of apathetic, ne'er-do-well, heterosexual deadbeats like me?"
With "Eat, Pray, Love," Gilbert took us along on her journey across Italy, India and Bali, as she shed the dead-weight of a broken heart and several overweight duffels of self-doubt. In "Committed," she traverses thousands of years and millions of marriages, ending up in a place she never imagined she'd visit.
Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett
is a Portland writer.
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