...at least, if the couch on which she's reclining in this Time photo is hers! And then there's that review:
I always find it vaguely uncomfortable when, simultaneously, a publication runs an interview with an author or auteur and a negative review of that person's art (Time Out, for instance, sets me to twitching week after week) even as I know it's perfectly standard and the authors in question are probably fully prepared for this eventuality, realize that it's two different people, and don't regard it as an act of betrayal.
Nevertheless, I got antsy reading Gilbert's good-natured Q&A with a review that describes her latest, Committed, as "a supreme act of navel-gazing, even for a memoir." That the review is, in my opinion, pretty dead-on, doesn't help.
Committed gives us a woman trapped in a command performance she's too smart not to be dubious about. She seems self-conscious about the need to remain everyone's best friend, littering her prose with chirpy asides ("Listen, I want to make it clear here that I am not intrinsically against passion. Mercy, no!") and cutesy interjections ("Just a little free advice there, from your Auntie Liz").
But then, perhaps given the personal nature of Gilbert's work, maybe there's a certain logic in breaking her up into the book, and the woman - and maybe there's a certain charity to it, as well. I'm getting a little abstract here, but we tend to want to keep our public figures - especially our women, and most particularly our memoirists - neatly boxed into our conceptions of them. Boxes of their own making, perhaps, but narrow enclosures nonetheless, that any three-dimensional woman must needs overflow occasionally. Julie Powell's Cleaving, so often (including in this review) brought up as a counterpoint to Gilbert's follow-up, is emblematic of this phenomenon - that she tried to free her "character" rather than the woman, or that she fused the too a bit late, is perhaps what has confused readers. When I wrote a review of Committed, several commenters remarked on how much they enjoyed Gilbert as a speaker, but that they'd found Eat, Pray, Love lacking in the same power. That struck me, when Gilbert's a writer who's made a name with making the personal public, that there should still be so much distance. And so, when Gilbert says, in her Q&A,
I think it would be totally insane of me to go into this with any hope or expectation that it would do as well as Eat, Pray, Love. There's almost a relief in knowing that it really almost can't. I think other people have really high expectations for what they want this to be, and I hope they're not disappointed. But I won't be.
And her couch is really, really nice.
[Image by Martha Camarillo via Time]