Against my better judgement I watched Eat Pray Love on Saturday night. It popped up in the “New Arrivals” section of my Netflix and I had nothing better to do, so I figured I’d see if the movie somehow managed to be more worthwhile than the book. Nope. It was worse.
I read the book a few years back when I was working in book publishing and felt out of the loop for not having read it. It was a quick read, and it’s pretty infectious in that you can’t help but wish you had the time and money to go on the same kind of adventure. But I found Elizabeth Gilbert immensely unlikable and just know that had I met her in those days I would have thought she was fun for about 3 months and then realized all the same things she realized about herself — namely that she was boy-crazy and had no real sense of herself — and would have wanted to slap her. (To be fair, I’ve been freakishly self-possessed since I was…well…born.)
Part of what bugs me about the version of Elizabeth Gilbert that Eat Pray Love depicts is what bugs me about any number of books/authors/characters — self-indulgence. I don’t just mean “self-indulgent” in that she took a year off of life to travel around the world to “find herself,” which is, of course, supremely self-indulgent. But so often in the book, and movie, it seemed like she was blaming American society for her own failure to know herself. This bugs me in the same way that Jonathan Franzen’s penchant for depicting Middle-America as a soul crushing force for mediocrity bugs me. It’s like he’s telling us, “If you don’t hate your family and can’t wait to get away from them, you’re just as stupid as they are.” I want to say, “You’ve only got yourself to blame if you can’t be yourself, no matter where you are.”
It makes it pretty much impossible for me to stomach his books. This poses a problem because I’m going to a CT Forum Book Club event where he’ll be a featured panelist (along with John Irving, whose stories never fail to entertain me, but whose epic tomes are self-indulgent in a whole different way). I want to try and read Franzen again before I go to the event, and today I came across The Corrections on my bookshelf while picking out some new reads for a friend. I don’t have the energy to take it just yet. I started reading Portnoy’s Complaint earlier this month and that used up all my tolerance for whiny characters (even if Alex Portnoy is way funnier than any character Franzen ever dreamed of writing). Instead, I’ve moved on to another movie-to-be: Water for Elephants, which is proving to be much more my style. Not only do I love a good story, but I have a weird thing for carnies and circuses.
I guess I’m just bored by writers — or people in general — who can’t get past this very 1950s notion that the only way to be yourself is to break free from the bonds of society and responsibility. That the only way to truly live is to reject the values and people you were raised with. Sure, sometimes that’s necessary, but sometime’s the problem is you… and no amount of complaining or globetrotting can fix that.