Saturday, February 6, 2010

Book Review: Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

Although I knew when I began my personal reading challenge to read all the #1 non-fiction New York Times bestsellers of 2010 that I would come across some titles I would have a hard time getting through, I didn't think this would be one of them. I hadn't read Ms. Gilbert's first book, Eat, Pray, Love, so I wasn't familiar with her story. But after reading Committed, I know I won't want to read the other book.

At the end of her first book, Gilbert meets a man whom she falls in love with named Felipe. Both have been divorced and neither wants to marry again. When the couple attempt to return to America after one of their many trips overseas, the immigration officials refuse to allow Felipe to enter, telling them that they must get married in order for Felipe to live in the U.S. Thus begins a 10 month wait for the officials to approve Felipe's request to marry Elizabeth, even though she has her reservations about the union.

In fact, the entire book is a discourse against marriage. Gilbert begins to research the history of marriage and explains, "What I really wanted, more than anything, was to find a way to somehow embrace marriage to Felipe when the big day came rather then merely swallowing my fate like a hard and awful pill." This confession sets the tone for the rest of the book. She goes on and on (for almost 300 pages) to tell us that there is no good reason for her to marry, even though she says she loves Felipe and wants to live with him for the rest of her life. Her are some statements made in the book:

"I will do virtually anything to avoid going through that apocalypse (her messy divorce) again."

"While I know there must be some couples out there whose love stories began with a bonfire of obsession and then mellowed safely over the years into the embers of a long, healthy relationship, I myself never learned that trick." (It's not a "trick", Ms. Gilbert, it's called commitment and loyalty.)

"The more education a married woman has, the more money she earns, the later in life she marries, the fewer children she bears, and the more help her husband offers with household chores, the better her quality of life in marriage will be." (I guess I am a woman most to be pitied. I am a high school graduate, low-middle income, married-at-19, mother of five whose husband helps some with the chores. However, I think I have a pretty good "quality of life", thank you very much.)

"And this is my beef, by the way, with social conservatives who are always harping about how the most nourishing home for a child is a two-parent household with a mother in the kitchen....this arrangement has always put a disproprtionately cumbersome burden on women." (Mother in the kitchen? Who do you think we are, June Cleaver?)

"When I confided those thoughts (about not having a public marriage ceremony) in an email to my sister Catherine, she replied, 'You make marriage sound like a colonoscopy.'"

Indeed the whole book makes marriage sound that way. And so it actually comes as somewhat of a surprise when, at the end of the book, Elizabeth and Felipe tie the knot. I wonder how long it will last.

I'm also wondering if maybe the author chose the title "Committed" as a reference to someone being placed in an insane asylum against their own will (as she says, " So thoroughly had I barred the very notion of marriage from my psyche that hearing the idea spoken aloud now felt shocking. I felt mournful and sucker punched and heavy and banished from some fundamental aspect of my being, but most of all I felt caught." It sounds like someone who is being led to the gallows.)

This book made me angry, but it also made me sad. I wish that people like Ms. Gilbert could truly understand that marriage can be, and is for a lot of us, a wonderful thing and that we are actually happy and fulfilled people. I do wish her well.

But I cannot recommend her book. Don't bother with this one. It's definitely not worth it.


Carrie said...

This review was AWESOME and really it makes me want to read it just to join you in the ranks of arguing against it! It sounds truly terrible and misguided.

Thanks (very much) for the review.

Kate said...

I read Eat, Pray, Love a couple of summers ago when it first came out in paperback. I was surprised that so many readers actually liked this woman. She seemed selfish–one of many who are praised for trying to "rediscover" themselves by ditching all their responsibilities and running away like children from a fight. I don't think she did the brave thing at all. The brave thing would have been to stay and fight for her marriage.

I read another review of Committed at a Christian book blog that recommended it as an example of what a marriage shouldn't be.