Saturday, September 20, 2008

Great Book Poem/Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is a poem from the GoodReads newsletter that I enjoyed almost as much as their interview with the luscious Neil Gaiman.

Used Books by SarahJ

I like them dog-eared and lawnsoft,
and savor the character of winestain
and thumbsmudge,

the tear-warp between pages,
scrawl lolling down margins,

x's, question and check marks
scratched out as anchors.

They kindle affinity with readers
who've leafed through before, house

a kinship of signatures, conjuring towns
and streets in states I'll never visit.

They preach the economy of timber
and purses, while scribbled dates

evoke evenings spent couch-lounging
through past springs and winters.

Though they come off the press crisp
and unsullied, I like them used

for the gust of tinder and sawdust,
the waft of feathers adrift in a hayloft.

I turn the yellow hem of the pages,
a hue half neon, half tubercular,

like the wallpaper of a motel
nicotine-thick with confessions

where with the fray, I find repose
under covers well plumbed
and sepulchral.

Eat, Pray, Love was a New York Times bestseller and an award winning non fiction book published in 2005-2006.
I'd heard more than one woman sing the praises of this book, which is about the authors travels to Italy, India and Indonesia to heal after her divorce and find spiritual happiness and balance. Initially, I can see why so many women were enamored of the book, because Gilbert's prose is exhuberant and rich, full of tasty descriptions and honest emotions, not to mention the odd witticism every few paragraphs.
Yet I felt a vague sense of unease as I was reading this book, that "too much information" feeling you sometimes get when a crazy person sits next to you on a city bus and proceeds to tell you all their problems and troubles, totally ignoring your "GET AWAY FROM ME" body language.
But as early as page 25, I encountered delicious nuggets of prose like this one: "I instead felt my soul rise diaphanous in the wake of that chanting. I walked home that night feeling like the air could move through me, like I was clean linen fluttering on a clothesline, like New York itself had become a city made of rice paper, and I was light enough to run across every rooftop."
And: "Dante writes that God is not merely a blinding vision of glorious light, but that He is, most of all, L'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle, The love that moves the sun and the other stars."
Gilbert's travels in Italy are full of gorgeous moments like those, moments that drip with breathtaking beauty and revelations that are humble but profound. Then she moves on to India, and things get intricate and tedious, as she whines for page after page about her inability to still her mind and meditate or chant. I feel that a great deal of this section could have been edited, as it was redundant and made Gilbert seem like a petulant, spoiled child unable to sit still or learn to pray. The only interesting part of her time in India was meeting a man she calls Richard from Texas who, upon seeing her at trench, eating, nicknames her "Groceries" and is always just around the corner, ready to provide a bit of homespun wisdom or a bon mot. While that may have seemed a bit too convenient, I gather from my neighbor that Gilbert lied about the last third of the book, in which she claims to meet a Brazilian man, fall in love and get married. In reality, I'm told that she took Richard from Texas with her, that they had an affair and married once she moved back to New York.
This left me with a sour taste in my mouth about the last chapters in which Gilbert lives in Indonesia, Bali, to be exact, and develops relationships with Ketut, a medicine man and Wayan, a medicine woman. She solicits money from her friends in the states, and forces Wayan to buy some property and build a home/shop there so that she might raise her three children in peace. While all this is happening, however, Gilbert rambles on about her fears of dating, having a sexual relationship and falling in love again after the pain of her divorce and the breakup of her post-divorce affair with a guy named David, who comes off sounding like a tremendous wimp (but then, Gilbert sounds like an insanely needy person with emotional issues, so I suppose I don't blame him). She meets several men who would be happy to have a sexual liason with her, but ends up choosing a man 20 years her senior simply because he smells good, is persistant and flatters her.
Now I find myself wondering if this Felipe existed at all, or if he was a cleverly disguised Richard with a Brazillian accent. If so, that's a mean thing to do to your readers, Ms Gilbert, especially when you've gone to such great lengths to become an enlightened soul. Enlightened people don't lie to their readers.
So while most women would give this book a solid B plus, I have to downgrade my rating to a mediocre C and let it stand at that, for cheating her readers out of the real story.

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