A binding closet. Never heard of it before reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel, The Signature of All Things, but after having read it, such a thing, unfortunately, is the first image that leaps to mind. Followed immediately by a sexy, Tahitian prince. Then some old books with botanical drawings, and moss. I would guess that’s not the order of reference Ms. Gilbert intended.
But it is in the dark, hot, tiny binding closet of the luxurious White Acre estate that Alma Whittaker, the protagonist of The Signature of All Things, repeatedly goes to relieve her mind and body of the sexual urges and tension that she is too ugly and ungainly and outspoken and . . . WHATEVER . . . to find anyone else to do it for her. Seriously, the woman is a billionaire and can’t find anyone to have sex with her. On top of which she somehow finds a trove of obscure sexual tomes and becomes obsessed with herself to the point of nauseating repetition.
In other parts of the first four-fifths of the novel, which by the way seems to be on every Best of 2013 list but mine, her family inexplicably adopts a sister for Alma, who is the supernaturally beautiful, kind, gloriously self-effacing, abolitionist, generous, natural daughter of a local whore; Alma falls in love with a local printer because he touches her shoulder; Henry Whittaker shouts at people and makes a fortune by establishing the foundation of a modern pharmaceutical company.
Alma decides that there are four types of time at work in her universe. “Divine time, in which galaxies grew and where God dwelled.” Geological time, “a pace that felt nearly eternal, nearly divine. . . . the pace of stone and mountains.” Human time, which moved at a normal pace. And “moss time,” where “nothing seems to happen, but then a decade or so later, all would be changed.”
I often felt I was reading a novel written in moss time. It is so overwritten, with such profound effort to be the anti-Eat, Pray, Love that very often you end up reading sentences like:
This person had arrived, he had illuminated her, he had ensorcelled her with notions of miracle and beauty, he had both understood and misunderstood her, he had married her, he had broken her heart, he had looked upon her with those sad and hopeless eyes, he had accepted his banishment, and now he was gone. What a stark and stunning thing was life- that such a cataclysm can enter and depart so quickly, and leave such wreckage behind!
However, when Alma embarks on a what-we-can-only-hope will be a life-changing trip to Tahiti, the book picks up. Enter “Tomorrow Morning,” Tahitian native son, adopted son of a missionary and missionary to other islands himself. The “Conqueror.”
The Signature of All Things is not on my list of favorite books from 2013. But if your book club chooses to read it, I can suggest the following.
MENU — I am sticking with my favorite part of the book. The Tahitian part.
Poi (if you want)
Roast Tenderloin of Pork
Coconut Pie: Ummmm. Betty Crocker’s Coconut Cream pie! http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/impossibly-easy-coconut-pie/dca95b46-58a1-4253-81ae-6091f4abf47c
Music of the South Seas: http://www.amazon.com/Magic-South-Seas-Tahiti-Marquesas/dp/B00004WFHH/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401302020&sr=8-1&keywords=polynesian+music
OR The Cast Album, featuring the fabulous Kelli O’Hara and opera star Paul Szot, from the Broadway revival of South Pacific. Bali Hai . . .
You know … even better. Skip The Signature of All Things and rent South Pacific.
Image of Moss Maiden, Lost Garden of Heligan,courtesy of heligan.com
Fear of the Dark