“One of the things I like most about women is their emotional resilience. Women are able to endure unbelievable amounts of disappointment and it doesn’t kill us. We manage a sort of weird alchemy and turn it into other things.”
If you’ve read Eat, Pray, Love, you know Gilbert has shouldered her own share of disappointment and done a bit of transformation herself. She’s married to the real-life “Felipe” from that book, a story she recounts in Committed; they live in New Jersey, where they run an import store called Two Buttons. She has weathered the predictable backlash against the book and remains grateful for its success.
“People still ask about Eat, Pray, Love; they probably always will,” says Gilbert, who calls it “the godmother” of The Signature of All Things for the freedom it brought her to work on a project she loved. “I don’t begrudge it. Eat, Pray, Love has been the great giving tree for me, and I understand their curiosity.”
In interviews, conversations are usually “half about 19th century botany and half about what’s it like to be married to that Brazilian guy,” she jokes. “But I saw an interview once with John Mellencamp where he was asked if he was tired of playing Jack and Diane, and he said, ‘Hardworking, decent people don’t spend 45 bucks to not hear me play Jack and Diane.’ … I feel the same way. But it is nice to talk about evolution and biology and botany.”
Gilbert, who’s also the author of the novel Stern Men and the story collection Pilgrims, is determined to stick with fiction, at least for now.
“I had so much fun writing this book,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘Why have I denied myself this?’ Well, I know why — I had some s--- to work out! But it’s a real joy, a kind of salvation for me. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m incapable of doing that kind of work while I’m in turmoil. I can’t make up drama if I’m focused on my own drama. So it’s a good sign if I’m in a place where I have so little drama I can concentrate on other people’s.”