In Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” the novelist and journalist chronicles her journey across Italy, India and Indonesia.
Early on in “Eat, Pray, Love,” her travelogue of spiritual seeking, the novelist and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert gives a characteristically frank rundown of her traveling skills: tall and blond, she doesn’t blend well physically in most places; she’s lazy about research and prone to digestive woes. “But my one mighty travel talent is that I can make friends with anybody,” she writes. “I can make friends with the dead. … If there isn’t anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of Sheetrock.”
This is easy to believe. If a more likable writer than Gilbert is currently in print, I haven’t found him or her. And I don’t mean this as consolation prize, along the lines of: But she’s really, really nice. I mean that Gilbert’s prose is fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit and colloquial exuberance that is close to irresistible, and makes the reader only too glad to join the posse of friends and devotees who have the pleasure of listening in.
Lacking a ballast of gravitas or grit, the book lists into the realm of magical thinking: nothing Gilbert touches seems to turn out wrong; not a single wish goes unfulfilled. What’s missing are the textures and confusion and unfinished business of real life, as if Gilbert were pushing these out of sight so as not to come off as dull or equivocal or downbeat. When, after too much lovemaking, she is stricken with a urinary tract infection, she forgoes antibiotics and allows her friend, a Balinese healer, to treat the infection with noxious herbs. “I suffered it down,” Gilbert writes. “Well, we all know how the story ends. In less than two hours I was fine, totally healed.” The same could be said about “Eat, Pray, Love”: We know how the story ends pretty much from the beginning. And while I wouldn’t begrudge this massively talented writer a single iota of joy or peace, I found myself more interested, finally, in the awkward, unresolved stuff she must have chosen to leave out.
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