After 'Love': Gilbert's New Memoir Of Marriage
Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert's delectable, intimate 2006 memoir of her yearlong quest for peace after a bitter divorce, launched her into the literary stratosphere (7 million copies sold internationally; Julia Roberts is playing her character in the movie). Gilbert, now 40, became a voice for her generation of women: "I don't want to be married anymore," she wrote, and women around the world vicariously partook of the beautiful brown-eyed younger Italian men, the double mozzarella pizza, the ashram prostrations and traditional Balinese healing of her year abroad.
Happily, the sequel, Committed, retains Gilbert's winning voice and also benefits from an apparently hard-won new level of realism. As the book begins, she is still happily in love with Felipe, the Brazilian-born Australian citizen she met in Bali during memoir No. 1. He too, has been through a painful divorce. Their vow never to marry, she writes, "cloaked the two of us in all the emotional security we required in order to try once more at love."
Committed begins with a sudden shock. At the Dallas airport, returning from a trip abroad, Felipe is detained, jailed and deported by a Homeland Security officer. For Felipe to have permanent visa status, he advises, "The two of you need to get married."
From that point on, Gilbert's smoldering ambivalence toward marriage and the strain of maintaining life in exile churn up emotional conflicts at every turn. Gilbert uses this unsettled time to explore marriage and divorce from all angles and presents her findings as a grab bag of theories, facts, studies and cross-cultural interviews (the women in a Hmong village howl with laughter when she asks what they believe is the secret to a happy marriage), some more intriguing than others.
The most moving passages are Gilbert's family stories. Her 91-year-old grandfather warns Felipe that he'd better be a survivor "because this girl has burned through quite a few of 'em already."
In a moving conversation, her mother speaks of giving up a career to raise her children. Her grandmother describes buying herself a fur-collared wine-colored coat with her own savings. After she married, she cut up the coat and used the material to make a Christmas outfit for her firstborn daughter. The image of the women in her past cutting up "the finest and proudest parts of themselves," and giving them away, haunts her.
Gilbert's frustrating, tense, uncertain and circuitous journey in Committed reads like a heightened version of the second stage of love, when the euphoria has faded, daily habits begin to cloy and lovers become irritable. Bubbling to the surface time and again in this all too human story is a rich brew of newfound insight and wisdom and a priceless sense of humor.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.