Review: Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert

Not a reflection on the quality of Committed, but just something I thought of when I started reading it:  I feel like the premise of the book could be tweaked a bit to make it into an obnoxious little romantic comedy starring one of those actresses that do “quirky” roles.  Elizabeth Gilbert, successful journalist and bestselling author, never wants to get married again!  Until a US immigration officer gives her a deadline: Get married in the next year or be an exile forever!  If this were a movie, she would spend the year meeting wildly unsuitable guys and ignoring her bland but adorable next-door-neighbor/coworker/classmate, before finally realizing that her heart’s desire was in her own backyard.

That’s not really the plot though.  Gilbert is in a serious long-term relationship with Felipe from Eat Pray Love, and neither of them wants marriage.  Felipe gets told by immigration he can’t keep coming back into the country for ninety days and then leaving, ninety days and then leaving, and if he wants to stay, he should just marry Liz Gilbert.  And then she spends the year reading all about marriage.

I find this endearing because I expect that’s exactly what I would do.  In fact that’s what I do do.  When I feel suspicious of something, I go a-hunting for things to read about it.  In a-hunting down the facts in the case of De Profundis, I discovered Oscar Wilde was a screaming over-dramatizer.  In a-hunting down the facts about the oral polio vaccine, I discovered the only correlation between it and AIDS was geographical (like, the places that had medical facilities giving out the oral polio vaccine were the same places where AIDS was getting diagnosed more frequently).  In a-hunting down the facts about free speech as it applies to corporations – I am still looking into that actually.  It is very complicated and makes me feel stupid but I will persist because if Justice Stevens (my favorite Justice, y’all, because he is old and extremely brilliant and he wears a bow-tie) feels it is worth a ninety-page dissent, then I suspect it is worth a ninety-page dissent.

(Yes, I have a favorite Supreme Court Justice.  DEAL WITH IT.)

(That last thing, DEAL WITH IT, that was a Better Off Ted reference.  Any of y’all watch Better Off Ted?  Will anyone besides me miss it when it inevitably gets cancelled?)

Gilbert writes about speaking to wives in other countries, as well as to the wives in her own family, about their experiences of marriage.  She writes about the strain on her relationship with Felipe as a result of their being in limbo.  (She wants to travel to Cambodia, and he wants to settle somewhere and have a coffeepot.  I am totally with him.)  Although this book is not as full of action as Eat Pray Love, Gilbert’s wry wit is still in evidence.  She’s a little bit crazy, but she knows that she is crazy, and in what ways, which is nearly as good as not being crazy in the first place.  Plus? She doesn’t talk trash about her family.  Hurrah!

If I had one complaint, it would be that there is not enough of Gilbert talking to people.  She is good at capturing voices, just like John Berendt, and she should do it more frequently.  Indeed all the time.  If I were in charge of the world, that’s what would happen.

Read for the Women Unbound Challenge.

Other reviews:

Confessions of a Book Hoarder
Book Addiction

Let me know if I missed yours!

Review: Stern Men, Elizabeth Gilbert

Ruth Thomas lives on Fort Niles, an island off the coast of Maine, where the main occupation is lobster-hunting.  Raised mainly on Fort Niles by her father and her neighbor Mrs. Pommeroy, Ruth’s upbringing is punctuated with time spent in Delaware boarding school.  Upon her graduation she returns to Fort Niles determined to start a life there, despite the apparent wishes of her mother’s family, the posh Ellises who only summer in Fort Niles.

I liked Eat Pray Love – not unreservedly, but a lot.  I liked it when God told her to go back to bed, and I cried when the medicine man remembered her.  (I don’t know why that made me cry but it did.)  I thought Elizabeth Gilbert wrote most beautifully.  When I started Stern Men, I truly expected not to like it, and I was surprised to find it engaging as well as well-written.  I don’t know why I was surprised!  I liked Eat Pray Love!  In Stern Men, Elizabeth Gilbert creates vivid characters and then makes incisive observation after incisive observation about them.

As I got further and further through the book, though, I was increasingly bothered by the shortage of plot.  So yeah, Ruth loves Mrs. Pommeroy; she finds her china-shop mother and the Ellis family difficult; she is attracted to Owney Wishnell of the Wishnell Lobster Dynasty.  This went along, not exactly in circles, but it went around a little bit, interspersed with backstory.  A lot of backstory happened, backstory on Ruth’s parents, on Fort Niles and its lobster wars with the nearby Courne Haven Island.  It felt like adding texture to the story, but then suddenly at the end, every piece of backstory and every piece of normal story got resolved lickety-split in a tidy little bow.

Aggravating.  There is a part of me that loves a happy, tidy ending.  It’s a big part.  I want everyone to live happily ever after.  But most of me finds it frustrating.  Life is not tidy!  That’s why it’s interesting.  I like me an ambiguous ending, that suggests the possibilities of happiness and pain – I always assume it’s happiness (that happy ending part of me!), but at least the writer’s not pretending pain’s not one of the options.

So here’s what I am wondering – what does an ending need to resolve?  I don’t like a book that just stops, but I also don’t like it to take every single element of the plot and tie them all up together.  How much resolution has to happen?