Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Committed - by Elizabeth Gilbert
When I searched the web for images of the book cover to use here I found some that were different than the edition I read. This happens occasionally, and normally I don't worry about finding an exact match, but in this case I did because the subtitles on the covers were different. It appears that later editions had the subtitle "A Love Story" whereas this one is a decidedly less romantic "A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage". Having gone through a difficult divorce (which you can read all about in Gilbert's phenomenal bestseller Eat, Pray, Love) the author is indeed pretty skeptical about marriage, as is her boyfriend, Felipe, for reasons similar to Gilbert's own. The two are essentially "sentenced" to matrimony when Felipe has some serious problems with the U.S. immigration service. It is made clear to the happily unmarried couple that Felipe (a Brazilian-born Australian citizen) will be unable to return to the country without a fiancé visa. During the long wait it takes to obtain the visa Gilbert explores her feelings and does some research on the meaning of marriage across time and space.
This memoir is bookended (so to speak) with two nearly identical library metaphors. Near the start of the story Gilbert and Felipe arrive at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport together after a trip abroad. Gilbert "passed through immigration first, moving easily through the line of ...fellow American citizens." Meanwhile she waited for Felipe to get through his much longer line. When he finally had his turn with the immigration official she watched as "he studied Felipe's bible-thick Australian passport, scrutinizing every page, every mark, every hologram" growing ever more apprehensive as she waited for the anticipated "thick, solid, librarian-like thunk of a welcoming visa-entry stamp. But it never came." And it is therefore, with some relief at the end of the book that Felipe finally hears "that satisfying librarian-like thunk in his passport."
Of course since I look for libraries in books this use of the metaphor would pique my interest more than some other readers. A "thunk" can be a sound for a lot of things, perhaps some rather unpleasant - the thunk of a jail cell closing behind you, or the thunk of a head hitting the floor, for instance. But here it is used as a reassuring sound - a sound you might expect to hear in a library, a place where one feels safe. And I do think that Gilbert and Felipe ultimately feel safe together in their marriage.