17 February 2010

Give Elizabeth Gilbert a second chance

Hey, I heard you're getting married -- congratulations! I mean, statistically speaking, anywhere from 90 to 98 percent of you will be married at some point in your lives if you aren't already, so in fact you are getting married. Shall I put you down for a fondue set or a wok?

You may doubt the figures I just quoted, for good reason because I can't remember where I'd read either of them, but you've probably heard the one about how half of all modern marriages end in divorce. There's actually a sensible curve-wrecking reason for why that oft-quoted statistic is so high (hint: kids these days), one of the many pieces of trivia I picked up from Elizabeth Gilbert's new book COMMITTED, in which a divorcée convinces herself to get hitched again. Its trivia-packing isn't the only reason this book is more smart and serious than I expected, but it doesn't hurt.

To rehash one more time, Gilbert's previous memoir EAT, PRAY, LOVE was the product of a book deal she inked after her first marriage fell apart, in which she traveled to Italy, India and Bali looking for inner healing and okaydom and whatnot. In Bali she meets "Felipe," a divorced older Brazilian-born Australian national, and falls madly in love. (She doesn't reveal his real name in the book, but it amuses me to set it off in quotes as if to remind myself of the taste of artifice.) They promise they will live happily ever after criss-crossing the globe without getting married.

Enter stage left, the Department of Homeland Security, currently being blamed for everything except the recent economic downturn.* "Felipe" is flagged and detained for hours on one return trip because he has been going back and forth into the U.S. too many times for his unwedded bliss. Now he can't come back at all unless, you guessed it, they get married. It sounds like a romantic-comedy set-up, but given what DHS is capable of, I believe her. So Gilbert and "Felipe" move back to Southeast Asia for a while so they can live cheaply while doing all the paperwork for "Felipe"'s fiancé visa, which will allow him to enter the country in order to marry her within 30 days. And while they're out there, she might as well do a little reading on marriage in history and different cultures and how the creator of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" was a eugenicist and every man is, in terms of evolution, either a Truman or a JFK.

Considering that the "Love" section of her last book was the weakest, COMMITTED is remarkably strong. I credit Gilbert for trading honesty in her doubts when it would have been much easier to quietly get hitched and not open herself up to scrutiny. She goes out of her way not to be flippant, sometimes too out of her way; in one chapter I could've sworn she was about to break into a verse of "Just Around The Riverbend" instead of making her point. But her wry humor snuck up on me; in a discussion of the Great Depression, she shows why divorce rates from the period are not a good representation of social trends, and then exclaims, "Where do you think all those hobos came from?" Where indeed.

The experience of reading this book reminded me a lot of A VINDICATION OF LOVE, in that even when I didn't agree I was still very much engaged in Gilbert's arguments. One of COMMITTED's chapters even seems to refute Nehring's book in suggesting that the "love-based unions" currently in vogue "make for strangely fragile tethers," although I wouldn't follow Gilbert so far as to say that marriages These Days are based solely on romantic feelings. Another chapter I even went back and re-read after I finished, something I was never tempted to do on EAT, PRAY's behalf.

The ending of COMMITTED is a foregone conclusion as Gilbert had earlier jokingly referred to the moment "I found out I would be marrying again." Her fans won't take to this book in droves, but that doesn't make it less thought-provoking; besides, like they say in all the jewelry commercials, the effects of one Oprah-championed mega-bestseller are forever.

---
*Wait, I will try! Tightened security standards mean highly skilled employees can't get their H-1B visas in order to work for American companies, which then fall behind in innovation compared to other developed countries with less restrictive entry procedures, leading to less demand for American technologies, lower profits, stock slump and layoffs, plus in the financial sector a removal of an important layer of checks and balances against subprime investing. Tom Friedman, surrender your mustache.

6 comments:

8yearoldsdude said...

"Surrender Your Mustache!" is a phrase that must be free and repeated as often as possible.

Moonaroo said...

That was a good review. I had shunned this book because Eat,Pray,Love was so self absorbudly tiresome that it was tough for me to finish-I did though because I didn't want to let me book club down and that was the only reason! As I am not a fan, maybe I will like this new book better.

Wade Garrett said...

I can see Surrender Your Mustache being listed in Sean O'Neal's worst band names of 2010.

Emily said...

I'm almost done w/ this -- read it out of morbid curiosity -- and agree it was interesting and that she's funny and all, but I think i have reached a point where I am a little tired with how self-absorbed she is. Like I just read 250 pages of some woman freaking out about getting married. I will go through all those thoughts myself some day. I just am not a famous author who can sell them to an audience already sucked into my life more than they need to be. Anyway. I'm almost done, like I said, and maybe my frustration stems from just wanting her to get to the fucking point already. What (philosophical musings) would Liz Gilbert say about (draw from) THAT, i wonder?

Ellen said...

She'd probably say something about how we had evolved to be impatient but our ancestors scanned the savannah for hours and there's a convenient Bible passage for it and and and...

I see where you're coming from. I mean, I hope that if I ever get married (statistically quite likely) I am not that freaked out about it. Where were her meditation skills then?

Pour of Tor said...

Hmm - I haven't read (or even really been tempted to read Eat/Pray/Love), but I have to admit that as a marriage-skeptic (and committed romantic) I am intrigued by your description of this one. I may have to check it out....