Dear Elizabeth Gilbert,
Should you have ever come to one of my book club meetings, you will have discovered that I am not a fan of the epistolary format. It makes me a bit crazy unless it's Mary Shelley, actually. Yet, I feel the need to speak to you directly. Perhaps it's the personal nature of your book or perhaps it's my own selfish need to write a bit differently today -- regardless, here we go, an open letter to you.
An apology to start: I really and truly hated Eat, Pray, Love. I didn't give it a proper chance, however, and threw the book across the room halfway through India. The voice, the whining, the lack of appreciation for your life's gifts, it all annoyed me to no end. And then I watched the movie (why oh why does Hollywood insist upon making movies about writers where they never, ever write? Aside from an email or two -- to break up with a boyfriend none the less -- the Liz Gilbert in the film never picks up a book or a pencil. Annoying. Didn't that bother you?) and it affirmed my every action in terms of not finishing that book.
Cultural zeitgeist aside, I was weary to read Committed. In fact, I'm not sure why I did -- and it took some effort, an extra trip to the library, a hold, actual dedication to read your book while caring for an ever-increasingly needy infant. But am I ever glad that I did. I'm going to say it loud and clear: I'm so very sorry. I was Judgy McJudgerson when it came to EPL, I couldn't abide by the stories I was hearing of groups of women having themed parties and giving up their own lives for a year of self-journeyment. Maybe I was jealous. Maybe I wanted to be out there too -- travelling for year and then writing about it. I mean, it sounds delicious. Yet, something in Committed, maybe it was the word "skeptic" in the book's subtitle that caught me, or maybe it was the subject matter (being a happily married lady myself but ever-curious about the social and political implications of the institution itself), but I was hooked by the first chapter.
In fact, despite the odd pairing of the more anthropological aspects of the memoir with your own personal experiences, I was somewhat taken in by your obsessive/compulsive need to research just about everything you could possibly about marriage before wearily entering into your own second union. I know Curtis Sittenfeld pointed out that some of the connections between your own research and experiences in limbo while waiting for Felipe's immigration situation to be sorted stretched thin across your narrative, but I didn't mind. I enjoyed learning about the people that you met, the marriages you came across, the kind of social history that seems to only be discussed between women but not necessarily written down. Women need to talk more about their differences. Or, rather, women need to be better aware of the social and political implications of marriage around the world -- if only to appreciate and understand our own particular wants, needs, and biases.
But what I adored about your book, and what made me feel like a heel for being so judgmental about your first book, was the story about your grandmother. I, too, grew up with a strong natured, extremely intelligent, ridiculously amazing grandmother -- a war bride who bravely left her family behind in England to start a new life in Canada with a difficult man, who held her family together tragedy after tragedy, and whom I loved so much that I still think about her every single day. Your grandmother, with her sassy fur coat and her determination, her happiness in that tiny farmhouse with her small kids and everything that she gave up -- there's a richness to her story that I felt was missing from the bits of EPL that I read. Maybe I should have been more patient. Maybe more Maud-like stories would have shown up in the "Love" section of your book. Alas, I didn't wait around to find out.
I did, however, rip through to the end of this book and was pleased to see that the legalities of your situation worked itself out. That your skepticism still allowed you to take a brave step down the aisle and I could absolutely relate to the idea of wanting to be married but not necessarily needing a "wedding" (we called ours a "non-wedding" for a long time and got married at city hall; it took less than 15 minutes. In fact, the actual "wedding" means so little to either of us that we a) forget our anniversary just about every year and b) neither can remember exactly how long we've been married. Some people might think this strange -- but for me, and for us, it's about the relationship, not the piece of paper, about building a life together, not about the institution. In a way, why did we get married at all, one might wonder. But it was important to me to be married and I'm sure it's exactly as you explore throughout your book -- the way I was raised, the example of my parents' marriage, my grandparents and aunts and uncles.
Also, you have such a grand sense of humour throughout this book that perhaps I missed completely while being so annoyed with EPL? The tone of this book was whip-smart yet still with a questioning when it came to having to do something you were both so against from the beginning of your relationship. Lastly, I can absolutely relate to the obsessive/compulsive way you went about coming to terms with having to get hitched -- the research, the restlessness, the ideas of how to still be the "you" that you had discovered after your first failed marriage. And as one who obsesses and has their own compulsive tendencies when it comes to many aspects of my life -- it made me feel better to see someone else put it down in writing so eloquently.
So, in short, here's my apology for being so flippant and, well, cruel. I'm sorry.