As the Julia Roberts movie opens, here’s everything a regular guy should know about Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-selling book. Bryan Curtis on the author’s slick writing, magnetic personality, and surprising spirituality.
If you are a male, you have perhaps been looking to Friday, August 13, with confusion and a little trepidation. You’ve heard about a cultural behemoth called Eat Pray Love that’s lumbering toward a theater near you. For years, you’ve seen the book—in purses, atop nightstands, stacked up triumphantly on the front tables of Barnes & Noble. And through basic cultural osmosis you learned its broad outlines: woman, travel, freeing of spirit, yoga. But you still don’t understand what Eat, Pray, Love is, and you fear that you’ll be dragged to the Julia Roberts movie version unawares.
Gilbert writes like a guru master. This was a happy surprise for me.
I read Eat, Pray, Love (this week). I did some hard thinking about it (yesterday). I am going to try to explain the book, the movement, the mythology—and why, heaven forbid, you might even like it. So close your eyes, block out your ambivalent feelings, and step into my ashram…
• Rachel Shukert: Elizabeth Gilbert’s God ObsessionWhat is Eat, Pray, Love?
Eat, Pray, Love, or EPL, as it is known by acolytes, is a 334-page memoir that was published in 2006. Here’s what happens: A woman got married and, somewhere on the far side of 30, decided she didn’t want to have kids. This made her miserable. So she ditched her husband and left on an intense journey of self-exploration to three countries that, not coincidentally, begin with I: Italy, India, and Indonesia. Eating, praying, and loving are what she does in these places, respectively.
Who is responsible for this?
The author’s name is Elizabeth Gilbert. Before writing the book, she was a novelist, nonfiction writer (a finalist for the National Book Award), and gifted magazine writer who, among other things, wrote the story that became the basis for the movie Coyote Ugly. Before Eat, Pray, Love, a great deal of Gilbert’s writing concerned itself with men.
Actually, she sounds pretty interesting.
She is! A fan told me Liz Gilbert is like the friend who goes abroad and sends you dazzling emails from the Internet cafe. This gets her perfectly—she’s someone you’re both enraptured by and envious of. Gilbert, now 41, is tall and blond and pink-cheeked. She attracts friends on her travels as if with a tractor beam. (“I can make friends with the dead,” she writes.) Everyone seems to adore Liz. With men, she tells us she’s “the planet’s most affectionate life form—somewhere between a golden retriever and a barnacle.”
So what’s her problem?
The loveless marriage. A subsequent affair which ended badly. A thirtysomething “what am I doing here” malaise. A penchant, as one character notes, for being a control freak. All this left Gilbert buried under a pile of negative thoughts and sobbing on many a bathroom floor. She was a mess.