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One amazon reviewer compared my book, DARING TO DATE AGAIN, with EAT, PRAY, LOVE, so I read it. Each is the story of a woman disappointed when her efforts to fit into traditional expectations (marriage) fail. The book WILD has the same theme. In all three books, the authors’ first step is to remove themselves from the major source of their discomfort – sexual relationships with men. The second step is to remove themselves, either physically or otherwise, from a culture that has not served them well. The third step is to develop a spiritual structure capable of supporting them; for Elizabeth Gilbert it was Buddhism and Yoga, for Cheryl Strayed it was Nature, you might call it Pantheism, and for me it was Unitarian-Universalism. I have heard it said that Buddhism, Pantheism, and Unitarian-Universalism are “not religions.” These three books beg to differ.
All three of us are modern feminists. The old feminism was combative and political…and thank you to the women who took on those challenges, from Susan B. Anthony to Gloria Steinem. The modern feminist is a philosophical pioneer. She does not follow the path of women such as Anaïs Nin or Virginia Woolf who were rebels, squirming within the bonds imposed on them from birth. She is untethered to a husband (though she may be married), able to support herself, and unafraid to speak her mind even if her ideas differ from other women’s.
She does not view men as the enemy; there is not a whisper of male-bashing in these three books. She is what happens when feminism becomes normalized. After the laws are passed and the cultural norms adjusted, individuals have to figure out how to use the social and political victories to craft a life in a new world.
I took EAT, PRAY, LOVE as a religious book. The takeaway is that life is full of blessings, but you have to make yourself ready to receive them. No matter who you are, that’s hard.
I was annoyed in a couple of parts, and some of that is my fault because I generally don’t enjoy being around people who are self-destructive, hysterical, and blotto with sobs, as Gilbert is in the first part of the book. As a reader, there is nothing one can do to help her, so I emotionally turned my head away. It got better quickly. This hysterical phase was something Gilbert, and the reader, had to work through.
This is a beloved international bestseller, so who am I to quibble, but her metaphors are poorly executed. They are meant to be funny, but often miss the mark. Some are, in my opinion, okay: “I like to think of the 109th bead as an emergency spare, like the extra button on a fancy sweater, or the youngest son in a royal family.” Some are too cute to be effective: “…a great lake of tears and snot was spreading before me…a veritable Lake Inferior.” Some are almost clichés: “…that deadline of THIRTY had loomed over me like a death sentence.” Some are sophomoric “The mother carries this plastic bag of water away with her…; it looks like she has just won a goldfish at the state fair, only she forgot to take the goldfish with her.” It made me aware of how difficult it is to fashion effective metaphors and reminded me to pay attention when I make up my own.
The voice in the book is loving, humorous, and warmly academic. Gilbert gives the reader a trove of information about the cultures she visits. Everybody in the world has a story, probably an interesting story at that. Gilbert knows that just recounting her adventures is not enough; she must put her personal experience into a context which will include the reader, and there she hits a home run.
I understand that her next book, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS, sets a higher literary standard for her. It will be hard to get more heartfelt, honest, and warm than EAT, PRAY, LOVE though. I take a liberty comparing my own book with hers, and with WILD, but the arc of experience in both books was so familiar that I could not resist. We shared our stories because, well, we’re writers, but I sense that we all want to invite other women to shuck their historical shackles and step out into the sunlight. We make our new-fangled lives one by one, using the resources we’ve been raised with. It isn’t easy, but that’s how you get to a happy ending.