Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

In Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, she begins her narrative at just about the same point she starts Eat, Pray, Love — firmly against the idea of marriage — but the surrounding circumstances in each book couldn't be more different. In the first book she is at the end of a disastrous first marriage and about to embark on a trip around the world to get over it, while in Committed, she is happily coupled with a man she met on that trip, yet unwilling to marry him since they both suffered through nasty divorces. A wrench is thrown into their plan to live unwed and happily ever after when Felipe is detained at at the Dallas airport for not having a visa; the quickest way to obtain one, to the horror of both parties, is through marriage.

The couple decide to go for it, but have to wait nearly a year before they're allowed to do so. Unable to be in the U.S., they head to southeast Asia, where they have little to do and Gilbert has plenty of time to warm up to the idea of marrying again. To do this, she decides to interview people she meets and read books about the history of marriage, in order to take a more intellectual approach to the idea. This is where the book is interesting — learning about marriage customs of the Hmong people, or that in ancient Rome two men could legally wed is pretty fascinating stuff. So is the story of Gilbert's grandmother, who suffered from a cleft palate and was allowed to obtain an education, travel, and have a job, since her family did not think she would wed. Lo and behold, she did wed, but in doing so, she gave up her autonomy. That's a point that Gilbert makes again and again — marriage only seems to hurt women, in that they earn less money than single women, their life spans are shorter, etc. But for men, they only seem to benefit from marriage, living longer and earning more money than single men.

Gilbert's own story does not pack the punch that her experiences in Eat, Pray, Love did. Being forced to marry the love of her life does not have the same emotional resonance that suffering a terrible divorce and subsequent depression does, and her narrative is less compelling. In the first memoir, there are real questions that the reader wants Gilbert to answer — will she move on from her divorce? How does each leg of her trip benefit her? But here, the only question is whether Gilbert will marry, a question we never doubt will be answered "yes," even when Gilbert is outlining how terrible marriage is for women. The main plotline doesn't have needed tension, and these sections just come across as awkward. It's lucky for her, then, that she includes as much research as possible, and disseminates this information in an approachable, casual way.

Gilbert says at the beginning that this won't be another Eat, Pray, Love, but it's a book that she needed to write and get out of her system. While it's nice to see some closure for Gilbert, I can't imagine that Committed is going to be a popular choice for book clubs.

1 comment:

  1. i liked reading it for the process of seeing how she writes and what she did during a year in exile. I liked pieces more than the whole. More subtle and less sexy than EPL in some ways, but I couldn't help but rubberneck.