Mike Kueber's Blog

November 5, 2013

Sunday Book Review #109 – Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 4:37 am
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Committed is Gilbert’s follow-up memoir to her earlier bestseller-cum-cultural phenomenon Eat, Pray, Love.  The earlier book concerned Gilbert’s attempt to deal with her decisions (a) to be childfree, and then (b) to dump her husband and later the first love-of-her-life boyfriend.  She dealt with these decisions by spending a year traveling to three philosophical meccas – Rome, India, and Bali.

In my review of Eat, Pray, Love I declared, “The book was a joy to read because, as noted by The New York Times Book Review, ‘Gilbert’s prose is fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit, and colloquial exuberance.’”  But I also noted the following:

  • I didn’t like Liz Gilbert much in the book, with her honesty and insights not enough to outweigh her narcissism, but Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert is much worse.  The two America men who she rejected – husband Stephen and boyfriend David – seem like wonderful guys, while the Brazilian who she ultimately hooks up with seems like the lap-dog foreigner type that she disparages others ex-pats for hooking up with.

Committed concerns Gilbert’s attempt to create a life with the Brazilian, who is a sort of a beach bum 17 years her senior.  After living for two years as nomads bouncing between Bali, Brazil, Australia, and Sydney, the couple decided to settle in America.  Gilbert’s explanation for their decision:

  • Moreover, after all our collective years of travel to far-flung places, it felt good and even revitalizing to be living in America, a country which, for all its flaws, was still interesting to both of us: a fast-moving, multicultural, ever-evolving, maddeningly contradictory, creatively challenging, and fundamentally alive sort of place.

(Although that explanation may be reasonable for the Brazilian, I am offended that an American would decide to live here based on a matrix of our country’s various attributes.)

Because the couple is so simpatico, there really wasn’t anything book-worthy about their story until the U.S. government decided that the Brazilian guy had no right to live in America indefinitely on a 90-day visa and that the only way to get a green card was to marry Gilbert.

So we are supposed to empathize with Gilbert and the Brazilian guy, two people who have been burned badly by marriage, having to jump back into the marital waters.  The book’s subtitle, “A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage,” confirms that this is really much ado about nothing.

To make matters worse, Gilbert fills most of the book with information gleaned from her readings on Western marriage, which she conducted while waiting overseas for the Brazilian guy to get his green card.  Suffice to say that those readings had nothing to do with committed lovers getting married to secure a green card.

As I previously noted, Gilbert is an excellent writer who is perceptive and honest, so the parts of this book (perhaps 20% of it) that describe her relationship with the Brazilian are fascinating – e.g., their pre-nuptial agreements, their handling of problematic issues (housework, sex, finances, and children), and their mutual exchange of acknowledged character flaws.  Among Gilbert’s flaws:

  • “I think very highly of my own opinion….  I require an amount of devotional attention that would have made Marie Antoinette blush.  I have far more enthusiasm in life than I have actual energy….  I am openly prideful, secretly judgmental, and cowardly in conflict and all these things collude at time and turn me into a big fat liar.”

It’s hard not to like someone with that level of honesty and self-deprecation.

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