Reviewed by Chelsea Cain
Elizabeth Gilbert is still with the Brazilian. I just wanted to get that out of the way, for those of you who have read her juggernaut of a memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, and are worried the sequel will have her hooking up with a Canadian.
For those of you who haven't read Eat, Pray, Love, let me catch you up: Liz left a bad relationship, traveled and fell in love with a Brazilian named Felipe. (Go ahead and picture Javier Bardem -- he's playing Felipe in the movie.) Gilbert's new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, explores what happens after that, when the couple is faced with their worst nightmare. Cancer.
No, wait. I mean, marriage. (I knew it was something really bad.)
Blame Homeland Security. They have ejected Felipe from the U.S. and barred him from ever returning. The only way that Liz and her Brazilian can be together in America is if they get hitched. Wedlock. The old ball and chain.
Both refugees from bad divorces, neither is too thrilled about the notion. But if Liz wants to live in the U.S. (she does), it's the only way they can be together. So they start the application process, and head off to travel for 10 months while the lawyers shuffle the paperwork.
Don't make plans, the lawyers say. There are no guarantees that the reluctant union will be approved. But Liz has marriage on the brain -- and another book due -- so she uses their travel time to explore the notion of matrimony, and perhaps overcome her fear of it.
"Call me old fashioned," she writes, "but I thought it might be a nice touch to be happy on my wedding day."
She grills those she meets along the way, including old Hmong ladies and her Laotian guide. She studies academic tomes. Why read a novel when you can read a Rutgers University report called Alone Together: How Marriage Is Changing in America? She quotes philosophers from Carl Jung to Zygmunt Bauman to Pamela Anderson. ("Never get married on vacation.")
This part of the book feels unmoored and a little irritating. While the fact that there is a 25 percent "divorce" rate among seagulls is interesting, most readers will want to know more about Liz and Javier Bardem. I mean Felipe. The anthropological musing feels like a distraction from what really matters, which is the relationship at hand, and frankly Liz's academic gaze could benefit from a stiff turn inward to explore her own neurosis.
Committed shines when Gilbert explores her mother and grandmother's marriages, which are moving not just because they are (finally) personal, but because Gilbert still clearly doesn't understand them.
Mostly the book feels rushed and not really fully formed as a concept. What could have been a very romantic story (will the lovers be kept apart?), is diffused of tension and made almost trite by Liz's exhaustive research. Just marry him already! Gilbert is an enormously appealing writer, which adds to the frustration. I want to read the book she writes in a year. When her exploration of marriage will be based in her own wonderful, funny, trenchant experiences and not abstractions.
Books mentioned in this post