UrsulaV (ursulav) wrote,

Shocking Admissions

Dear readers, I am about to make an admission that many of you will find shocking. Some of you will be horrified, some of you will be appalled, and a few of you will probably dismiss me as a worthless lump of organs and never read my work again. Such is the price we pay for admitting the truth.

I kinda liked Eat, Pray, Love.

Not the movie, since I haven’t seen it, although I hear it’s pretty bad. But I read the book a year or so ago, and you know, it wasn’t bad at all. I wouldn’t say that it was a fantastic mind-blowing experience, but I enjoyed large chunks of it and identified with other bits and laughed quite a lot and would recommend to it to divorced women of my acquaintance. I picked up a copy when I hear her interviewed on the Diane Rhems show, where she failed utterly to sound like a barking self-absorbed moonbat, and instead came across like a sane, sensible, funny woman concerned about the issues of the world today, and I thought hey, I wanna read this author. (I have gotten more book recs from Diane Rhems…)

I mention this because, with the release of the movie, both book and author are getting hammered for being shallow selfish rich-bitch first-world-exploitive and a lot of other phrases of quite astonishing vitriol. Usually, I see, by people who start out with “I haven’t read the book…but this is what’s wrong with it!” and then go on to lambast the author for a multitude of imagined sins.

I admit, the sheer anger leveled at this book by people who haven’t read it puzzles me a bit. Haters gonna hate and all, and it’s fashionable to dismiss the popular and so forth, but even with that in mind, Elizabeth Gilbert takes a heavier than usual beating, and I find it all rather surprising.

So the author discovers she’s at a point in the marriage where her husband expects kids, and realizes to her horror that she, having always expected to want them at some point…doesn’t. Really really doesn’t. There’s a scene where she describes curling in fetal position on the bathroom linoleum around a pregnancy test, sobbing with relief that it’s negative and terror that she has to go through this again next month, and the month after that, and so on. (I’m gonna guess this scene did not make the movie.) And lord, there but for the grace of god…had I a smidge less sense and a smidge less iron when my ex turned to me and said “I think I want kids,” I could have been there on the linoleum myself. (Instead, thank god, something reached out from the back of my brain and seized my vocal cords and said “Well, I really can’t help you with that.” If I could find that part of my brain, I would give it flowers and small unmarked bills. There were other causes of the divorce, but I think it was after that he decided to…um…look elsewhere.)

Anyway. Author does only thing she can think of and bolts. She gets the world’s most horrible dragging divorce, throws herself into yoga and a terrible relationship, sinks into deep dark depression, and finally manages to claw her way out far enough to convince an editor to give her a book deal (she’s a travel writer) to visit three places on earth she always wanted to visit–Italy (to focus on the sensual) India (to focus on the spiritual) and Bali, (to focus on the beautiful.)  The rest of the book covers these bits, and does it with humor.

Yes, the author is something of a tourist and occasionally somewhat shallow, but she’s entirely aware of that shallowness and she is wry and self-deprecating about it and furthermore, like all good authors, a very good observer of human behavior, and she speaks to many of those truths. And since we do not demand that our authors be perfect–thank god! I don’t want to get a job at Wal-Mart!–it works quite well.

I think a lot of us who came out of a bad divorce got better in part by focusing on things that made us happy–even ridiculous, pointless things, like learning Italian. And plenty of people couldn’t hack the depression meds and credit yoga and meditation similar pursuits with saving them from depression  (and generally we don’t slag on them for it!) so I’m not sure exactly why Gilbert going to stay the ashram run by the guru whose meditation practices she credited with helping pull her out of deep clinical depression seems to piss so many people off.

Unless they haven’t read the book, and didn’t know that bit and assume it was just basic Western spiritual tourism. Which is possible. But jeez, people hate on this book a lot. Sure, some of them are clearly just pissed that they don’t have the money to go travel the world when they’re depressed, but I can’t imagine the vast majority is that shallow. I dunno. Yes, Gilbert fixed her depression by travel, and that’s not widely accessible, but it’s an autobiography, not a self-help book, and if we have to only write about experiences that everybody can duplicate effortlessly, our literature will be significantly poorer for it.

Now, it’s not a perfect book. Lots of people would find it a snore, or annoying, or whatever. But hey, I enjoyed it, parts of it spoke to me.  There is a scene where she sits in Italy and carefully arranges the absolutely perfect lunch on a plate and feels a kind of odd happiness and I stood in my kitchen more than once, carefully laying out several kinds of interesting salad on a piece of red Fiestaware, and feeling a fragile emotion that I would hard pressed to explain fully, except that it was something like even though my life is wrecked beyond measure and I do not know how much of it I am going to be able to salvage, this meal here is perfect and the rest doesn’t matter while I am eating it.

(Heck, a good bowl of chicken and wild rice soup and a mini-baguette in the evening was frequently the great joy of my day.  Dark times. I got better. I didn’t go to Italy to do it, but I’m not inclined to slag on somebody who did. )

So I dunno. I liked it. I don’t expect everybody else to like it. I just can’t figure out why so many people hate it so violently…and haven’t even read it.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

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