The Signature of All Things

Friday, October 18, 2013

"The Signature of All Things," by Elizabeth Gilbert. Viking, 499 pp. $28.95.

While I knew Elizabeth Gilbert had written fiction, I had only read her two memoirs, "Eat, Pray, Love," and "Committed," until this point. While reading both of these books, I was struck with the depth of content and the artistry in Gilbert's writing ability. The same can be said about "The Signature of All Things." Several passages have nearly taken my breath away, simply in the way they were written.

Alma Whittaker is her father's daughter, in more ways than she'd like to admit. "For one thing," Gilbert writes, "Alma Whittaker looked precisely like Henry: ginger of hair, florid of skin, small of mouth, wide of brow, abundant of nose. This was a rather unfortunate circumstance for Alma, although it would take her some years to realize it."

Fortunately for Alma, she also inherited her father's great love of botany. Henry Whittaker had spent his younger years traveling the world and studying the native plants of different countries. Soon after, he developed a way to cultivate a certain species and became a very rich man for it.

Though I know she is fictional, I have more trouble believing she was constructed in the mind of an author than believing she was, at one point, her own person. Gilbert has constructed her with incredible voice and build a world around her that inspires further wonder into the natural world. How else, then, would we come across a moss and understand "the world had scaled itself down into endless inches of possibility"?

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