How long did I last?
Till the 28th “tale” — at which point, my system couldn’t withstand another page. The structural integrity of my psyche was shaking and quaking, and I knew that if I did venture into the 29th tale, things inside would begin to fissure and fracture and snap. I had to stop reading “Eat, Pray, Love,” the No. 1 New York Times bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert.
It’s funny about books. I’m starting to think that writing books, especially novels, is like creating an illusion — providing carefully rendered, temporary interpretations of the world in a compelling way that suspends the reader’s disbelief and makes him want to enter your world. I’m not saying I’ve achieved this as a writer, but I do think that if your readers can’t suspend disbelief, it’s over — it’s like revealing the machinery of your illusions, the exposed slights of hand readers aren’t supposed to see.
And what makes an illusion most effective? I say it’s a dazzling distraction. I think about my favorite authors, and I realize they all possess some phenomenal literary “distraction” skills. Tim Dorsey is so damn funny, you pay no attention to the insane storylines he’s feeding you. Charlie Huston‘s prose style is so fun to read (such a literary aesthetic), you never even notice a few unlikely events that unfold in his world.
Which brings us to “Eat, Pray, Love” — in short, I wasn’t buying it.
The writing was excellent, and Gilbert’s narrative voice was compelling — and that sustained me for 87 pages. But ultimately, I could not suspend disbelief, and I couldn’t take another “tale” — of which there are 108 in the book. Somewhere along the way, this stopped feeling like a candid, authentic memoir and more like a deliberate, carefully planned-out and contrived “what-if” literary event — as in, “What if I spent a year traveling to three of the trendiest places in the world, included some angst over my divorce and bouts with depression, and wrote about it? Would that sell?”
Perhaps most bothersome was the fact that Gilbert had secured the book deal for “Eat, Pray, Love” (and the money for it) before she even set off on her journey to Italy, India and Bali, but hardly mentioned the deal in her memoir. After reading that, everything felt manipulated and controlled and fake. This wasn’t a personal, see-where-the-wind-takes-me journey. This was a planned-out literary event hashed out beforehand in New York.
Two friends of mine, Richardson and Riske, had already read the book and really enjoyed it. So we had at least a half-dozen debates. Slowly, I whittled away at them. Eventually, Riske sagged his head and sighed, “If we’d been discussing all this while I was reading the book, I don’t think I could’ve finished it.” I felt kind of bad about that — like I was ruining his memory of a great vacation. I’d had a friend do a similar thing to me with a book I’d loved — just goes to show you how subjective all this is.
And yet, I kept reading “Eat, Pray, Love.”
My wife Nancy, on the other hand, had stopped after only five pages. And now, every night, she’d glance at me and laugh to herself, saying things like, “I can’t believe you’re still reading that thing.” So one night I put the book on my lap and ask, “My friends wanna know why you had such a problem with this book.”
Nancy gets up. “Here, I’ll show you why.” She takes the book, fans the pages, closes her eyes and stops randomly on page 109. She reads aloud: “The tears begin when Mario — our host — weeps in open gratitude …” She shuts the book, tosses it to me and says, “That’s why I’m not reading it.”
And that was it for me — I moved on to Volume 2 of the crime-fiction journal, Murdaland. And I’m loving it.