Elizabeth Gilbert's follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love, a memoir called Committed, will come out in January, and according to Motoko Rich in the Times, Gilbert "knows that some knives may be out for her" as she promotes the new book.
Subtitled A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, Committed tells the story of what happened when Gilbert and lover Jose Nunes — called Felipe in Eat, Pray, Love — tried to enter the United state after their courtship in Bali. They were both divorced, and neither wanted to marry again, but they were told marriage was the easiest way for Nunes to gain legal residency. The book's press release says,
Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Gilbert and Felipe spent the next ten months wandering haphazardly across Southeast Asia waiting for the U.S. government to permit them to return.
During this time, she tackled her fears of marriage by studying it intensely, trying with all her might to discover through historical research, interviews, and personal reflection what this stubbornly enduring old institution actually is. Committed tells the story of one woman's efforts to make peace with marriage before she enters its estate once more.
We've criticized Gilbert plenty of times, and some of the "knives out" for the new book may be ours. I should say that every time I write about Gilbert, several commenters rise to her defense, and it's clear that Eat, Pray, Love has inspired many people. As many problems as I had with it, I did find it calming, especially since Gilbert argues that lasting happiness is available to anyone, even those who have suffered personal setbacks and depression. But Gilbert also undercuts her own claim, probably unconsciously, by presenting herself as a supremely special and lucky person. In a Times review, Jennifer Egan puts her finger smack on my least favorite part of the book:
[M]y one mighty travel talent is that I can make friends with anybody. I can make friends with the dead. . . . If there isn't anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of Sheetrock.
This half-modest admission — "everybody loves me," she seems to be saying, "but it's just a trait, a talent like any other" — has always rubbed me the wrong way. Partly it's just because I can be kind of shy and awkward, and "making friends with anybody" is certainly not one of my talents. But partly it's because, as Egan points out, Gilbert's charm and "personal power" make it seem like a foregone conclusion that everything will go well for her. Her difficult divorce notwithstanding, the world seems full of people who are eager to help her, and it's no surprise that she finds fun in Italy, enlightenment in India, and the perfect man (Nunes) in Indonesia. Gilbert once said, "I had an easier life than [my sister] did because I had an easier personality and it was easier for people to be sweet to me," and Eat, Pray, Love made me feel like Gilbert's life was easy because it was "easy for people to be sweet to her." What was I supposed to learn from that?