COMMITTED: A LOVE STORY by Elizabeth Gilbert
“This entire book – every single page of it – has been an effort to search through the complex history of Western marriage until I could find some small place of comfort in there for myself.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (FEB 27, 2010)
Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, is the follow-up to her mega-seller and beloved memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. This book begins where Eat, Pray, Love leaves off. Ms. Gilbert is still with her love, Felipe, in a committed, monogamous and life-long relationship. Felipe is Brazilian born and an Australian citizen. He is a gem dealer who conducts most of his business in the United States. They have an idyllic life, living in a small house in Pennsylvania. Felipe gets 90 day visas, comes to the United States, leaves for a while, gets another visa, and comes back. At least, that is what was going on until one day in 2006, while at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Homeland Security refuses to let Felipe into the United States. There was only one way that he could get into this country, and that was by marrying Liz.
Maybe I should have prefaced this review by telling the reader that Felipe and Liz based their whole relationship on NOT getting married. Marriage was definitely not in their future, nor were children. They believed that with marriage comes the possibility of divorce and both of them had been severely burned in previous divorces. Liz, especially, saw marriage as a societal restriction on a couples’ ability to love with complete intimacy and freedom. Because she now feels “sentenced” to marry and very “resistant” to the idea, she decides to spend the next ten months researching and writing a book about the history of marriage in western society. She hopes to be able to find positive aspects of marriage that will ameliorate her negative feelings about it. What else to do with your time while waiting for a visa and Homeland Security clearance for your sweetheart!
Liz and Felipe travel to the Far East (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) where it is very cheap to live and travel as virtual vagabonds on a limited income. (This happens before Eat, Pray, Love became a super-star best seller and money was still tight.) They go from country to country with Liz observing the anthropological and sociological aspects of marriage. She is also researching the historical concept of marriage in Western society – from the time of early Christianity to the present.
Liz comes up with fact after fact that supports her belief that marriage is harmful and detrimental to women. Women who are married live shorter lives, they suffer more illnesses, they get paid 7% less than men, the economic results of divorce are harder on women than on men and women often give up their dreams and careers in the name of marriage. She also sees marriage as a social restriction heralding from the time of early Christianity till the present. She cites myriad facts about the controlling nature of marriage and the ways that marriage acts to prevent people from being intimate. She focuses on the current restrictions on gay marriage, how inter-racial marriage was once illegal, and cites how slaves were forbidden to marry in this country prior to emancipation.
She discusses her concerns with family members and friends, hoping to gather information on marriage that is cohesive and absolute. What she finds is that everyone has a different story. One of the more delightful aspects of this book is when she is telling the personal stories of her grandmother’s and her mother’s marriage, it is heartfelt and reads in the same vein as Eat, Pray, Love. Other aspects of this book are rather dry – a historical evaluation of marriage that Liz hopes will support her desire to avoid the ceremony. “A colonoscopy was exactly what our upcoming wedding was beginning to feel like.”
Most of the research is done from the woman’s point of view and Liz goes into detail about what tends to make a marriage work and what doesn’t. One fact she cites is that the more education a woman has, the more likely a marriage is to succeed. Couples who don’t cohabitate before marriage are less likely to divorce. The more similar you and your partner are in “ethnicity, cultural background, and career,” the more likely you are to stay together. The more religious you are, the more likely your marriage will last. The facts go on and on. In fact, this book is a compendium of history and facts. My favorite parts of the book were when Liz was not citing facts but being more personal. However, she was on a quest to prove a point, and to back up her opinions she needed facts.
There is one part of the book I found contradictory. Liz talks about how she and Felipe are a conflict-averse couple. They don’t argue much. Disagreements between them are rarely spoken about and just tend to disappear. However, she talks about the victims of Felipe’s temper while they are abroad. “All over the world and in many languages I have watched this man bark his disapproval at bungling flight attendants, inept taxi drivers, unscrupulous merchants, apathetic waiters, and the parents of ill-behaved children. Arm raising and raised voices are sometimes involved in such scenes.” This does not sound like a conflict-averse man to me. He sounds very South American, which he is. As Liz states, “I am genetically and culturally incapable of handling Felipe’s classically Brazilian version of conflict resolution.” She often finds herself defending Felipe’s victims and sometimes finds herself a victim of his irritability and temper. How can she think they both are conflict-averse?
Liz’s ability to come to terms with marriage is thanks to a book by Ferdinand Mount. He discusses marriage and intimacy as an invention by couples to spite, or in spite of, government and authority. People have always craved intimacy and the secrecy that comes with it, especially in the bedroom. Throughout time, governments have tried to eliminate marriage or, at the very least, control it. When they find they can’t do that, they end up embracing it. This book helps her to see that maybe she’s been viewing things backwards; society didn’t invent marriage, couples did. “We invented marriage. Couples invented marriage.” She grants that couples also invented divorce, infidelity and marital failure. But most importantly, couples invented privacy. “Certainly I have needed Ferdinand Mount’s reassuring theory that, if you look at marriage in a certain light, you can make a case for the institution being intrinsically subversive. I received that theory as a great and soothing balm.” She ends up coming to terms with marriage in this light and sees it as a “little bit of privacy in which to practice love.”
If you’re looking for a book like Eat, Pray, Love, this isn’t it. However, this is a good book. Ms. Gilbert examines a tough subject in her thorough and sometimes light-hearted way. She’s best when she’s light-hearted. She has a whimsical sense and a great sense of humor. I loved hearing about her family and the people that she met on her travels. That’s her strength as a writer – the personal and the intimate, those things she experiences first-hand and writes about with humor and grace. I hope that we’ll soon get a first-hand account of her marriage to Felipe and vicariously enjoy their happiness and adventures. We have lots of history books and social commentaries. What these all too often lack, and what Ms. Gilbert so wonderfully provides, is how things play out in a real person’s life.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 385 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Viking Adult; First Edition, First Printing edition (January 5, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Elizabeth Gilbert|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
- The Last American Man (2002)
- Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, Indonesia (2006)
- Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage (2010)