This is rapidly becoming TR’s book review blog, but what the heck—y’all were probably sick of hearing me brag about my kids anyway. There’s a new project percolating in my brain, so I’m in preparatory reading mode. And you know, you can drag preparatory reading out indefinitely and never get around to the actual work of the project. That’s the beauty and the danger of research for the procrastinationally inclined. (No, “procrastinationally” is not a real word, and if you wrote it I would call you on it.)
Today’s book: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She also wrote the bestselling Eat, Pray, Love. I never read that one. If you did, feel free to chime in with your impressions of it.
Traumatized by an ugly divorce, Gilbert promptly falls in love with a similarly relationally tweaked man from another country. Though happy together, they vow never to marry.
The he gets deported.
So they have to get married.
Now, the problem with people who write autobiographical books that top the charts is that they become convinced that people really care about the minutiae of their lives, when in fact the readers were responding to their humor or some angle that speaks to the moment. Such writers’ second books often lack the charm of the first but contain every bit of the frank narcissism. So it is with Committed.
For nearly 300 pages, Gilbert engages in a hyperactive, panicky survey of marriage through history and around the world, laced with more-than-you-wanted-to-know about herself and the boyfriend. Nothing that she learns is comforting. Marriage seems to work best when it has nothing to do with such nebulous matters as love, but is arranged to protect property and inheritance or to forge tribal alliances. With no expectations of “happiness” or “fulfillment,” such couples go about their lives in relative contentment. This modern system of choosing a life partner on the basis of often fleeting emotional states leads only to disappointment and divorce.
(Oddly, a similar sentiment is expressed by the bad guy in The King in the Window, which Little Bit and I read for our mother/daughter book club. In his view, longing and desire are qualities that only serve to make us miserable. So he steals people’s souls to protect them from all that uncomfortable wanting. I can see the point. Without the longing to read a good story, I would’ve been less disappointed by that one.)
Then there’s the mountain of evidence showing that marriage is beneficial to men but the opposite for women. Single women enjoy better health, greater prosperity, less depression, etc. Or so Gilbert says. She never actually cites her sources, making this book useless for research purposes.
The only thing that saves the boyfriend from getting pitched out the back of the moving train is the fact he doesn’t want to have children with her. At least I think that’s what saved him. I was flipping pages pretty fast towards the end.
Since the title says she makes peace with marriage, it is not a spoiler to tell you that they end up married. After a book-length freak-out, Gilbert manages to convince herself, in an unconvincing finale, that getting married is actually an act of subversion. Never mind that it looks, acts, and feels like that ultimate act of conformity. Whatever, Elizabeth. I’m sure there will be a book about your first year, coming soon to a bookstore near you.
What did this have to do with the seed of a project I’m planting, which deals with matters of family, work, and gender? Very little, it turns out. But the next book on my list looks much more promising.