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Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

The author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ takes a thorough look at one of life’s most sought-after social constructs: marriage.

By Kate Vander Wiede / January 5, 2010

The millions of fans who were whisked off their feet by Elizabeth Gilbert’s whirlwind travels in “Eat, Pray, Love” might initially be disappointed by Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Gilbert’s newest nonfiction work. While the former took readers on a tour of the world, the latter takes them on a journey through Gilbert’s thoughts.

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But despite the dramatic difference in structure and the accompanying pace this new form creates, “Committed” stands on its own two feet.
The book opens with Gilbert and her boyfriend, Felipe, whom readers of “Eat, Pray, Love” may remember meeting at the end of that book. Traveling the globe “like witnesses in some odd international protection program,” the two also spend time at their US home base when Felipe has a proper visa. Observers and participants to the destructive power of divorce and the messy complications it can reap, the lovebirds have promised each other devotion, but had made a pact never to marry.

Unfortunately for them, the universe has other plans. After flying into the United States, Felipe and Gilbert find themselves in an interrogation room being told they must ring the bells of holy matrimony if Felipe ever wants to enter the country again. So the couple hits the road, spending time in Southeast Asia while their immigration papers are prepared. Gilbert decides to learn as much as she can about her greatest fear: marriage.

As readers, we are the recipients of that knowledge. Gilbert spins a historical account of one of the most lasting institutions in the world, from the early Christians (who tried to abolish marriage and sex) to the Europe of Henry VIII (where divorce came back in vogue with “grand style”) to the Hmong people (who don’t seem to think much of their spouses at all). As the couple travels from country to country, the reader explores years of feminism and racism while learning about seagulls’ divorce rates and the warming habits of porcupines (seriously). This part of the book, while full of interesting tidbits, reads too slowly, and one is thankful when Gilbert’s witty asides steal the show.

Yes, there is wit! While I expected more laughs, perhaps, this book wasn’t without its humorous moments. For example, Gilbert compares the US government to a “stern, old-fashioned father,” happy marriages to “self-cleaning ovens,” and condenses Christianity’s early view of matrimony to “marriage = wife = sex = sin = impurity.” If only textbooks made it that simple! So even though the history portion drags, these cleverly crafted moments almost make up for it.


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