Early in the pages of Eat, Pray, Love, on her way to India, author Elizabeth Gilbert drops an ominous talisman: she makes a Gandhi joke.
Dining on the intestines of a newborn lamb she observes Gandhi "never ate lamb intestines in his life."
"But vegetarians can eat this," responds her companion Luca. "Intestines aren't even meat, Liz. They're sh--." Ha Ha!
A few pages later, buying a fur hat, Gilbert sees humor in the disappointing veal she recently ate for dinner. "Are these called Mrs. Paul's Veal Sticks" she and a friend chortle.
Visitors to Gilbert's web site used to be greeted by an image of a little girl covered with flies in keeping with Gilbert's spiritual quest and what she calls her "peace summit."
But nowhere on the site will visitors see the sequestration of the newborn veal calf-- or harvesting of "intestines of a newborn lamb"--behind the meals she extols.
Writing a book about looking for God--and finding him and having him talk directly to you!--always puts someone at risk of hubris. Not only do you violate the axiom "those who speak don't know; those who know don't speak," you probably violate the axiom, "don't think less of yourself; think of yourself less."
Especially because when God "tells" you to go back to bed as he does to Gilbert twice in Eat, Pray, Love, you're one step away of saying he found you a parking space or spared your bingo game rain.
Critics have assailed Gilbert's Italy/India/Indonesia travelogue as a rich woman's sojourn. It's not too hard to find God, they say, biking on the beach at sunset on the island of Bali on a big book advance.
But it isn't Gilbert's upper middle class hauteur in which scrubbing floors and mosquito bites are the Long Night Of The Soul that makes Eat, Pray, Love a spiritual blasphemy.
It isn't her aren't-I-complex-and-interesting! disquisitions that blot almost every page like this passage where she ponders the source of her despair:
"Was it psychological. (Mom and Dad's fault?) Was it temporal, a "bad time" in my life? (When the divorce ends, will the depression end with it?) Was it genetic? (Melancholy, called by many names, has run through my family for generations, along with its sad bride, Alcoholism.) Was it cultural? (Is this just the fallout of a postfeminist American career girl trying to find balance in an increasingly stressful and alienating urban world?) Was it astrological? (Am I so sad because I'm a think-skinned Cancer whose major signs are all ruled by unstable Gemini?) Was it artistic? (Don't creative people always suffer from depression because we're so supersensitive and special?) Was it evolutionary? (Do I carry in me the residual panic that comes after millennia of my species' attempting to survive a brutal world?) Was it karmic? (Are all these spasms of grief just the consequences of bad behavior in previous lifetimes, the last obstacles before liberation?) Was it hormonal? Dietary? Philosophical? Seasonal? Environmental? Was I tapping into a universal yearning for God? Did I have a chemical imbalance? Or did I just need to get laid? "