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Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
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A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

A-CommittedJournalist Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which described the aftermath of her painful divorce, unexpectedly took the publishing world by storm. It has sold more than 5 million copies and hovered at the top of best seller lists for years. A movie version starring Julia Roberts is scheduled to be released in 2010.

The Topic: Gilbert and her Brazilian boyfriend Felipe (whom she met in Bali in Eat, Pray, Love) are detained by Homeland Security at an airport after a trip abroad. After six hours of interrogation, officers inform the couple that Felipe will be deported for violating the terms of his visa. He will not be allowed to return. "The two of you need to get married," advises a well-meaning officer. "In the space of a few hours," reflects Gilbert, "my life had been neatly flipped upside down, as though by some great cosmic spatula." The lovers, reluctant to marry but determined to stay together, decide to wait out the ensuing immigration battle in Southeast Asia, where Gilbert chronicles their deepening relationship and her own struggle with her fears of wedlock.
Viking Adult. 304 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780670021659

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"You’ll find everyone in this book from Goethe to Oscar Wilde, but it’s Gilbert’s powerful voice you’ll remember most. With this book, she gracefully, brilliantly transitions from personal memoirist into social historian." Joy Tipping

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In Committed, she delivers a book packed with the same sort of self-absorbed, rapid-fire, remarkably entertaining first-person narrative that made Eat, Pray, Love appeal to so many, while devoting considerable space to her enlightening historical and sociological research on the institution of marriage. … Imagine hearing expert Stephanie Coontz (The Evergreen College professor who made a splash in 2005 with her intelligent Marriage, A History) read her work aloud—after sucking on a helium balloon. Lots of fascinating history, only funnier." Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[P]art of the book, while full of interesting tidbits, reads too slowly, and one is thankful when Gilbert’s witty asides steal the show. … But despite its faults, Committed remains an incredibly thorough, introspective, and ultimately engaging examination into one of life’s most permeating, sought-after social constructs. And this fact alone makes it a book that begs to be read." Kate Vander Wiede

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As a tour guide to both Asia and matrimony, Gilbert is consistently entertaining and illuminating and often funny. … While such shifts between the factual and the subjective shouldn’t be inherently problematic, they made me feel lost as a reader: where in the history of marriage were we, and were we moving forward chronologically or thematically, and how long had Gilbert and Felipe been traveling, and what month was it again?" Curtis Sittenfeld

Chicago Sun-Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The wit so evident in Eat, Pray, Love flickers in and out of Committed, but the story doesn’t flow quite as naturally. The studies and meandering history lessons weigh down a personal experience that is sufficiently fascinating on its own." Allecia Vermillion

Oregonian 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The anthropological musing feels like a distraction from what really matters, which is the relationship at hand, and frankly Liz’s academic gaze could benefit from a stiff turn inward to explore her own neurosis. … What could have been a very romantic story (will the lovers be kept apart?), is diffused of tension and made almost trite by Liz’s exhaustive research." Chelsea Cain

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s exactly the memory of how good Gilbert’s first memoir was that makes her second one such a disappointment. In Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, the stubborn honesty becomes obsessive navel-gazing, the humor is in short supply and what was lyrical turns ordinary." Joanne Weintraub

Critical Summary

In this perceptive and intelligent work, Gilbert attempts to determine what "this befuddling, vexing, contradictory and yet stubbornly enduring institution of marriage actually is." The answer surprises her: its definition changes considerably across borders and eras. Gilbert’s inclusion of this historical, economic, and social analysis in her narrative divided critics, who deemed it alternately fascinating and insightful or dry and academic. Most agreed, however, that Gilbert shines when recounting her own experiences or the stories of her mother and grandmother and that her warm, folksy voice, though somewhat evasive when describing the intimate details of her relationship with Felipe, remains otherwise unchanged. It may not be Eat, Pray, Love II, but Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage is another entertaining journey readers will relish with Gilbert as the tour guide.

Cited by the Critics

Marriage, a History How Love Conquered Marriage | Stephanie Coontz (2005): In this enlightening and compulsively readable book, historian and author Stephanie Coontz traces the history of marriage in Western civilization—from ancient Babylon through the Middle Ages and the Victorian Era to the present day—revealing how the unspeakably radical idea of marrying for love has redefined modern relationships. ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2005)

Public Vows A History of Marriage and the Nation | Nancy Cott (2000): Yale professor Nancy Cott engagingly examines the evolution of marriage as a legal and political convention in American history—from the traditions brought from the British homeland by the first colonists through slavery, the Civil War, and the federal government’s suppression of polygamy in the West.

Anatomy of Love A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray | Helen Fisher (1992): Anthropologist Helen Fisher scrutinizes the biological and evolutionary underpinnings of humans’ drive to fall in love, pair up monogamously, and cheat in this absorbing and edifying book.