Wednesday, October 17, 2007

food for thought

last night, the second meeting of the cosi girls book club convened at my house. our chosen selection, EAT PRAY LOVE, was an interesting look at a woman's journey through divorce and depression to love and happiness across italy, india and indonesia. i think what really disappointed me at the end, now that i've had a chance to really ruminate on all the other women's points of view, is that in the final analysis, it wasn't much more than a real-life romance. it's ultimate message, because that's the note it ended on, was that a woman's ultimate happiness lies in the man she finds to love her.

and that is so not f-ing true.

in that sense, the book reminded me of that ridiculous piece of trash about mid-life women - something's gotta give. i wish ms gilbert had used her insights in india to become a deeper person... not just someone who's ready to forge a lasting relationship with a man. once the guy entered the picture, the whole thing just deteriorated into a romance novel complete with an unwilling maiden and a suave older suiter. sigh.

don't get me wrong. i like men. i adore my daddy, love and admire my stepfather, enjoy my brothers and brother-in-law, am awed by my sons, am blessed by Beloved. but they're not the focus of my universe nor the compass at the center of my soul. books- fiction or non- that focus on a woman's need to "find" a man don't speak to me. my life would be emptier and grayer without them, of course, but it's been empty and gray in big patches since i lost lorraine last year.

so i guess the question then becomes... what IS the focus of my universe? what is the compass in the center of my Soul?


rose said...

1st ~ As I read, ". . . a woman's ultimate happiness lies in the man she finds to love her." I felt the fur rise up. Grrrr.

2nd ~ I feel my Karen, my Sharon, and others as I miss their presence and welcome it ~ all in a single breath.

Lastly ~ Perhaps just to be silly, you remind me of a favored aspect of the foolish "Pirates" movies (aside from Mr. Depp, that is). Jack's compass ~ I *loved* that! It was hardly subtle, yet I found that its meaning and value was missed by others.

Love ya.

Patrice said...

Oh! I so disagree about Eat Pray Love! (Liz Gilbert, by the way, is speaking at Asylum Hill Congregational in Hartford on Friday Oct. 28). I enjoyed that book immensely, and my honey (a man, interestingly, himself), who feared that it would be one of those he calls "women weaving" books, thought it was great.

I thought that the writer began as an exhausted, emotionally wrung out woman looking to start over after -- in the midst of -- a difficult divorce. To me, she had an exuberant, happy-making stay in Italy, and then a careful, spiritual several months in India.

Can she help it that she met a man in Bali and fell in love? I didn't see that as the point of the book at ALL. In fact, she makes fun of the fact that she ends by sailing off with him on a little boat to a tiny island in some sort of parody of a romance novel.

She learned, and grew, and spent time getting whole. THAT's what the reward was; the center of herself was herself. She could always have found a man (though she seems to have sworn off men and sex for some time as she knew that wouldn't help her get where she wanted to go). But when she evolved to where she was healthy -- she let love in. And love is nice, don't you agree? She never said he would be the center of her life.

I think she's a pretty extraordinary writer to pull in the laughter and pathos and wit that she did. Did your other buddies like it at all?

annie kelleher said...

but the book ends on the romance note....which in my opinion makes it the focus of the story. if the book was really about her voyage of self-discovery, why include the man at all? it's the presence of the man in her life that apparently signals to her that she's healed... i'd have preferred the ending of the book to center more around her friend getting her house, and the man as a coda... the icing on the cake... not the cake itself.

Patrice said...

And I thought it was exactly that: the icing on the cake; the coda. It would have been hard to have her friend getting the house be the ending, since the friend turned out to be quite a manipulator, and not much of a friend. Though I think that issue (the house) was handled pretty honestly, and made for a believable personal -- and cultural -- conflict.

I do see the coyness factor in Liz finally capitulating to her desires for this man -- for physical stimulation, in general -- after fighting it in herself for some time. But to me, that wasn't the writer giving in to some older, wiser beau. It was her allowing her body its desires.

It ended with the man because that was her ending. She had reached a resting place. And it ended with him, too, because the book industry wants a happy ending.

Funny, I remember talking to you more than a year ago about my own memoir/novel on the perils and passion of Internet dating (still don't know how much I want to fictionalize) and wanting my newly-met real life man to be the "happy ending." And now that he is so much a fixture in my life, and definitely a happy ending, I may not use him in my book -- partly because it's a bit too pat, and partly because just in case the book makes money, I want to be able to write a sequel!

But I can't help it if I did have a happy "ending" in real life, and find love at the end of my search. So I'm not searching in that way any more -- but I am still growing and searching in others.

When I meet Liz, I'll ask her if she gets a lot of criticism for ending on the romance!

annie kelleher said...

i think you may have identified far more with this story than i did. you clearly see yourself in her - please don't interpret my criticisms of the story and the character as criticisms of you. sure, love is nice and sure its great she got a man, but the way the story ends on that note makes it by definition practically the most important part of the story. the parts of the story that were interesting to me were the parts where she's led to actually DO something to help people other than herself. that happens twice, i think... once in india where they make her be the hostess, and when she decides to help the woman in bali by the house. i thought their interaction was a fascinating glimpse into what happens when a well meaning member of a dominant culture tries to intervene in the affairs of one less so. i also thought it wasn't so much about what kind of a friend the other woman was to "liz" - it was what kind of a friend was liz going to be to the other woman. and she did come through, which i was impressed by. but it was never a relationship between equals and liz shows a fair amount of naivete i thought, by not recognizing it herself. it takes her beau - older, wiser (where've i seen THAT?) - to point it out to her. it's this kind of subtle sub-texting that i am trying to point out. there's a message within the overt message and the message is within the WAY the story is told, in the events and personalities and characters described. this is not history being reported - this is an interpretation. i'm not quarreling with her overt message - all women should be happy. i'm quibbling with the nuances of how hte story is told. if you're going to tell a big story that captures the imagination the way this one has with so many... i think one has to be aware that how one chooses to tell the story affects the way the story is understood.

Patrice said...

I did, unquestionably, identify with this woman and her experiences. And I completely agree (it's axiomatic, I think) that the way you tell the story affects it -- a memoir is naturally just the view of one person. Six people could write about the same event and report it completely differently. I often think that when my brothers talk about our parents, they must have grown up in a different house than I did!

Nevertheless, I don't see her love ending as destroying the book. Yes, it was interesting to see her interact with different cultures and be surprised at the way things worked. I did sometimes find her naive, though not in that particular situation regarding buying the house. I thought that she had a different kind of code -- she perceived that no matter what level of privation she suffered, she (the writer) would be "honest" about what she needed. But she had never lived in the Balinese culture, and had never had anything close to the experience of this woman she befriended.

I will be interested in seeing how she comes off in person. I'll give you a full report!

annie kelleher said...

i wouldn't say the ending destroyed the book.. i was disappointed by the ending. another woman who appears to think that a happy ending means ending up with a man bores me. i outgrew romances a long time ago - not because i don't want people to be together, but because i think the underlying message to women as well as the underlying myth the stories support are damaging and wrong. no, im not surprised your honey liked it. of course he did. it underscored what he and all men are encouraged to believe... that women can't be happy without one. and of course our heroine didn't think she'd ever deviate from her own particular code of behavior. none of us ever do, until we are put to a test. i had to remind myself several times throughout the book that i was reading about a woman in her thirties... not a kid around 20. all in all... a big thumbs down from annie :)