In her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert entertained and inspired millions of readers with her chronicle of the year she spent “finding herself” traveling around the world and becoming whole again after an emotionally (and financially) draining divorce. Her ideas weren’t what made the book a bestseller; it was her engaging and witty voice, her fun delivery, that made it really click with all those readers.
Gilbert emerged from the year of traveling to Italy, India and Indonesia not just with a better feeling of balance, but with a new love. She and Felipe, both burned by divorce, agreed that their relationship would be a solid, committed, strong one, but not one officially sanctioned by any government. They were very happy that way, too, but since Felipe was not a U.S. citizen, and she was, he could not live with her in the United States on a regular basis. They cobbled together a few months at a time, and he would leave the country for a short time and then return for a few more months.
This seemed to be working until one day the U.S. government wouldn’t let him come back in again. Before he was summarily sent out of the country for good, the helpful Homeland Security agent (and Gilbert says in her acknowledgments: “I thank Officer Tom for treating Felipe with such an unexpected degree of kindness during his arrest and detention. And that is the most surreal sentence I have ever written in my life, but there it is.”) suggested the only solution for them was to get married. So they went about planning what Gilbert considered a different type of “shotgun wedding.”
During the months that it took to get the mountain of paperwork together that a “fiancé visa” requires, Gilbert decided that rather than stay in the United States without Felipe, they could travel together. Her book hadn’t become a phenomenal bestseller yet, and since his business as a gem importer was heavily based in the United States, he couldn’t earn any money while barred from the States. So they had to economize, and living for a few weeks at a time in cheap hotels in Southeast Asia seemed to do the trick. It was far from ideal, but they were together in this exile.
Knowing that this road was leading to a “forced marriage,” Gilbert decided to research. She writes, “It slowly dawned on me that perhaps I should use this time to somehow make peace with the idea of matrimony before I jumped into it once again. Perhaps it would be wise to put a little effort into unraveling the mystery of what in the name of God and human history this befuddling, vexing, contradictory, and yet stubbornly enduring institution of marriage actually is.”
And so she did. She had her sister in Philadelphia send her boxes of books about marriage, which she pored over, and she interviewed friends and family and people she met in their travels. During that ten months, Gilbert constantly thought about the institution of marriage, its history, its meaning, its impact and its sociological and psychological and all manner of other -ogical ramifications. And in the pages of Committed, she shares some of her findings. Saying she reached certain conclusions isn’t exactly the right phrasing: mainly, throughout the book, she talks about the research she read, about the discussions she had with Lao and Hmong women, for example, and what completely different worldviews they had about marriage. When she relates what she’s gleaned, she mostly muses that she hasn’t gotten anywhere. That’s the essence of the book, then: Gilbert talking about her experiences, her viewpoints on the experiences of her family (things she has witnessed personally or heard about over the years at different stages), or the information relayed to her through research of some kind. And she thinks and writes herself into a circle, never seeming to progress into greater acceptance, even as the time ticks down to the wedding-that-must-be.
Some of these musings are entertaining; some are annoying. Gilbert admits frankly that she has been quite immature in many ways, was too immature when she first married, was quite self-centered even up through her late 30s, when she was writing all this. For those of us who figured out much earlier on in life the somewhat straightforward concepts involved in maturity and relationships, her goings-on can seem adolescent and sometimes just outright annoying. However, there are larger portions of the book that, despite these deficiencies, are thoughtful, insightful, and stimulating. It’s useful to revisit building-block concepts of important matters, in this case marriage, family, and society, and mull them over, discuss them with others (such as spouses). Making it all not just palatable but entertaining is Gilbert’s personable, intelligent, and funny style. She has a way with words, no doubt, and the uniquely poetic and/or humorous ways in which she arranges them are beautiful to behold.
Committed is just about what is to be expected as a “sequel” to Eat, Pray, Love. Its style is the same, its messages are along the same lines, it is almost as entertaining. (If one is to compare the two — which, naturally, is inevitable — this one lags somewhat in entertainment value because it relies more on research and observations rather than employing a full cast of colorful characters played out in amusing anecdotes.) So for those who enjoyed the first memoir, this new one should satisfy.
Rated: Moderate, for four uses of strong language (which are all in one chapter of the book toward the end) and some uses of mild and moderate language. Sexual references are actually pretty minimal.