Not only is this book heavy handed with botany that at times seems relatively interesting if you believe in spending your life peering through the eye tackle of a microscope, but it is about as boring as watching the growth of a moss colony. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s moss. My family seems only to be able to grow the fertile little kiwi hairs instead of grass. Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, for taking all of my beliefs away that you could actually write fiction as beautiful as a story about yourself. I stand on the side that you are a one hit wonder with the likes of Vanilla Ice, Harper Lee (who thankfully decided to quit her trial run of writing a book equal to or better than To Kill a Mockingbird), the cast of Seinfeld (New Adventures of Old Christine….seriously), I would love to say the Buffalo Bills, but they have yet to win a Superbowl even though they played in four consecutive, and that band that no one remembers who sang “Tainted Love.” Someone, anyone…wikipedia that for me.
I’m too tired after making it off the Tahitian island where my last bit of ending anticipation was driven in by sixty more pages of Roger the Dog and conversations indebted to long pauses of useless explanation. If you think that was the longest, most boring and confusing sentence you’ve ever read, then that might be a reason to pick up Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel (NY Times Bestselling novel) The Signature of All Things. At first, I was giving her the benefit of the doubt. I found myself connecting with the main character Alma, really the only character that the story follows whole-heartedly, because she was her father’s favorite. I have an ornament that says so, so it must be true. She also had the curse of being so smart and so dull-looking which caused her story to be a long and arduous one of no travels until she was well into retirement and therefore spending most of her life in a closet masturbating, or a carriage house studying choice examples of botany. Yes, you’re delicate senses read that right. Here is a woman who spends her life yearning to earn her own “Krull the Warrior King,” hoping to use her own mating weapon to save the world of some endearing, sexy, botanist, only to be left with her own intellectual stimulus as a vibrator. (Sorry for being explicit. My mom is going to die). Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against plants, but I struggle to comprehend why it was necessary for me to read 513 pages of plant descriptions in order to get to the final page of this book.
I can’t even remember what happened in the beginning. I’ve been reading this solidly for almost two weeks because every time I would begin reading it, I would wake up in the darkness of my living room having had a fine nap filled with dreams of actual book-worthy excitement. I know I should be applauding this story of a woman searching for enlightenment when the only thing women were allowed to be searching for was sheets, and their seventh child, but I can’t get over how much I lacked interest in this story. It was fine historical fiction, but I was led on by interviews with Gilbert. She said she researched endlessly the life and travels of Captain Cook, but he was in and gone in three pages flat. I love Gilbert’s TED talks on inspiration and creativity. I loved Eat, Pray, Love although the movie (much like this recent novel) was a journey I shouldn’t have ever taken. However, this fictional reinvention of an intellectually driven woman wasn’t quite like reading a thesis from the biology department, but if you removed a few of the lyrical language moments, it could have been.
I was fond of a few characters, Prudence, for example and surely Retta, who is truly the only lively thing on the page. Speaking of Retta, the only truly enjoyable character, is glared down by whiteness to live out her life as a woman “criminally insane” and put away by her husband. I know this happened in reality. I also know that Retta had a bit of flair, but did Gilbert have to lock away my favorite character in the whole book just because she had some personality that was later stomped on by white walls and straight jackets. These are things to think about when you write characters.
JK Rowling just broke every Potter’s heart when she said that Ron and Hermoine should have never been an item and Hermoine was always meant for Harry, but you can’t take something like that back when you’re writing a book. It’s like killing off the only redeemable character. Why rid this novel of its only funky character just to make her husband single again for when Alma discovers the truth about her sister Prudence. That’s not fair to poor Retta who just wanted to live inside a dress with poofy sleeves and hug everyone. Henry, Alma’s father, was sly and booming, a true father of a house and his wife was disastrously cunning and dry, but I didn’t want to hang out with any of these people.
I think it’s fair to say that this book had moments of brilliance, but it can be summed up in a brief sentence: a woman filled with sexual frustration, sets out to discover herself in identifying and studying mosses, but is taken down by a man of divine promises (See: “A Good Man is Hard to Find”) and finds refuge once again in the idea that everything must have a comprehensive answer that she will discover mostly in the world of botany. The true problem with this novel lies in my unflinching lack of care for these characters, this time period as told by these characters, and my disappointment of the editor who did not encourage Gilbert to shorten parts that weren’t necessary. However, thank you so much Penguin for letting me get my hands on this one so that I could use the word “vibrator” in a blog.