Saturday, February 13, 2010
I actually beat the rush of women to this book at the library. I was in my account last week before the snowstorm and saw there were already a dozen holds on the book. Gilbert herself says in the introduction of her book that somehow, after Eat, Pray, Love, she became chick-lit author despite having written almost exclusively about and for manly-men up to that point. She continued on in the into that Committed was largely re-written because she didn't feel like she had an audience in mind the first time she wrote it and so wrote it for a couple dozen of her female friends the second time.
So this is probably her first book which is really intended for women. I had a lot of hopes for it but some doubts as well. I hoped it would be two-star worthy like EPL and The Last American Man but knew also that it would be tough to match.
It did come close. Committed is sort of an extension of EPL. At the conclusion of that book, Gilbert falls in love with a Brazilian man. Both of them have been divorced and aren't keen about the whole institution of marriage. This book begins with the two of them having to look into marriage as heightened Homeland Security prevents her love from being able to ever re-enter the United States again.
Being forced to marry in order to be able to be in the United States as a couple launches Gilbert into an investigation of the history of marriage and what the concept means to her. Like her other books, it is well-written with clear, entertaining prose. She continues to write with self-awareness although at times it feels the openness is for show. A "Look at me" sort of sense. Gilbert explores different ideas of marriage and how it came to be, why it exists, why people make it out to be so important and the personal/legal ramifications. In all this it is an excellent book. It is never dull and rarely redundant.
The book falls short of two-star status for me for two reasons. The first is that she references a wealth of histories and documents about marriage that she has examined. Yet the book contains exactly one footnote and the footnote even comments on it being the only footnote. The footnote is an aside. There is also no bibliography. In the afterword, Gilbert mentions the importance of these materials and mentions the authors (whether or not she got them all, I don't know) but there is no way to follow up on what she wrote and in most cases, it is impossible to even know what source she referenced. If this were just a memoir, I'd have no problem with the lack of citations but as this book is a third to half history/research, I think it should have been a given that there were some indication of her sources.
The second reason the book falls short is an excruciating, whiny, sexist chapter which also happens to be the longest chapter in the book. The chapter is entitled Marriage and Women and is wrought with stereotypes and generalizations about men mixed with complaints about how women are unjustly treated. As someone who has been and continues to be the primary caregiver for my sons and who maintains a household by myself which includes all the "womanly" duties of cooking, cleaning, etc. in addition to all the "manly" ones, it really bothers me whenever I read about "gender roles" and how the burden is only on one side. I hate this sort of rigmarole in any situation. Yes, groups have been repressed over time. That repression stemmed largely from stereotypes and generalizations which is the exact same thing you're doing! Drives me nuts.
It drove me nuts even more because as Gilbert is generalizing her way to a point, she then turns around and complains about her uniqueness and how she and her betrothed to be are so much different from everyone else who has ever considered marriage. While the circumstances surrounding their marriage may be unusual, everyone has their own sets of problems and situations which make their potential marriage "unique". It doesn't mean that they don't experience pain, heartache, difficulties, etc. They just might be different. They are by no means less important. Again, just drove me nuts.
Remove that one chapter and add citations and this is another fabulous book. As it is, it is still very good. If you have an interest in an examination of love and marriage, I recommend it. If you like Elizabeth Gilbert, I recommend it. If you haven't read Gilbert, read one of the other two below.