No question, Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow up to Eat, Pray, Love (which I hated but yes I have to confess, I did stay with it, my nose held tight, til the end), Committed, is the book of the season—the featured review in the New York Times Book Review last Sunday, media tour appearances hither and yon. I am just back from a few days in New York City, and it is being featured in every bookstore in Manhattan.

But all of the talk and promotion isn’t moving me any closer to being interested. I am an Elizabeth Gilbert Curmudgeon.

I’ve asked a lot of people who did love her previous book to explain the EG phenom to me. Her readers are, after all, mostly women. Some said the book was a big success because there were so many ways to relate to Gilbert’s story—from the legions of divorced women (and those possibly longing to be), to people who do yoga to those who have spent time in Italy, India or Bali. (I wasn’t buying these reasons. I am not divorced, nor longing to be, but I do practice yoga and have been to all those places.) Another reader told me it is a modern day fairy-tale. (Not a form I find all that compelling.) Another said, it is fun to read. (Not sure what that means.) Maybe I have too much ‘tude about people who end up being incredibly successful at writing, painting or making what seems pretty obvious and pedestrian to me. So maybe I wouldn’t hate the book if it weren’t such an international bestseller? Could be.

But a smart and insightful local writer, Kate Tuttle, finally cracked the EG phenom code for me in her Boston Globe review of Committed. This is the best explanation for Gilbert’s success I’ve read. Thank you KT for solving the mystery for me:

Buying the earlier memoir in preparation for reading “Committed’’ I felt like a walking cliché – it didn’t help that I picked it up in an airport bookstore, where it was still one of the titles facing out – but to my surprise the book worked. I found myself almost immediately disarmed, laughing and crying like a curmudgeon at a Frank Capra movie. Its successor isn’t quite as charming – Gilbert’s zippy, zingy prose works less well in the longer, more traditionally structured chapters. Then there’s the larger problem of Gilbert’s own changed circumstances: When vulnerable authenticity is your stock in trade, a sexy Brazilian partner, globe-trotting itinerary, and multi-million-dollar bank account start to seem like liabilities, not assets. Only a terrifically self-assured and self-aware writer could navigate these hazards without succumbing to smugness or whining, and somehow Gilbert pulls it off. She even manages to make her choice, which is after all a very traditional one, sound daring, even bold:

“The leap into marriage has not come easily for me, but perhaps it shouldn’t be easy. Perhaps it’s fitting that I needed to be persuaded into marriage – even vigorously persuaded – especially because I am a woman, and because matrimony has not always treated women kindly.’’ What she offers in “Committed,’’ as in “Eat, Pray, Love,’’ is not scholarship or even argument, but rather voice. Her genius is in flipping an old literary script – she’s not addressing us as her dear readers, but instead acting as our dear writer, an ideal friend: smart but not intimidating, wise but not smarmy, kind but imperfect, funny in a way that makes us feel better about ourselves. So what if this book, too, culminates in a fairy-tale ending? We’ll have to wait for the sequel to see if Gilbert lives happily ever after.

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