I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (which I first reference in a post that occasioned much controversy).
I don’t know if I’ll offer it a full-blown review, but will admit to have pretty much liked the book though, to be sure, she often balanced out her often enlightening anecdotes and observations with an infuriating condescension toward social conservatives, indeed, pretty much anyone of a faith not of the New Age. And she just couldn’t hide her political or social prejudices — prejudices which contributed little if anything to her overall narrative, disjointed as it often was.
That said, in her brief consideration of gay marriage (pp. 71-76), she offers a better defense of the expanded definition of the institution than do most gay activists (but a defense which corresponds with the lives of many gay couples).
While she herself is not wise, she offers nuggets of wisdom throughout the book. I say she is not wise because she spends the whole book fighting against her own prejudices, without really confronting them on an intellectual level (at least at times, she does seem to acknowledge them). She can’t really stand outside herself or her own experiences — though, to be sure, at times she does try. And sometimes her anecdotes work beautifully, other times they fall flat.
In one, however, she even echoes (perhaps unconsciously) the oldest story about matrimony, The Odyssey: ”This,” she writes on page 239, “is intimacy the trading of stories in the dark.” When the long-suffering Odysseus was finally united with his beloved wife Penelope who had remained faithful as she waited a full twenty years for her betrothed’s return, his patroness Athene delayed the dawn so that the married couple might both share their stories and, um, well, share the pleasures of, um, well, love-making.
Her anecdotes nonetheless become both the greatest strength of the book and its greatest weakness. She is at her best (both stylistically and narratively), engaging and sometimes informative, when she tells her own stories. But, while the book purports to offer a “historical study” of the institution, she offers only a cursory treatment of the topic, never footnoting her sources and breezily summarizing the two (or was it three or four?) books she read on the institution. She doesn’t seem to have consulted anything that defends the social conservative understanding of the institution. (more…)