Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
HarperCollins, 11/5/2013
Hardcover, 320 pages

The New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto creates a resonant portrait of a life in this collection of writings on love, friendship, work, and art. "The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living."
So begins This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, an examination of the things Ann Patchett is fully committed to—the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun. Writing nonfiction, which started off as a means of keeping her insufficiently lucrative fiction afloat, evolved over time to be its own kind of art, the art of telling the truth as opposed to the art of making things up. Bringing her narrative gifts to bear on her own life, Patchett uses insight and compassion to turn very personal experiences into stories that will resonate with every reader.

These essays twine to create both a portrait of life and a philosophy of life. Obstacles that at first appear insurmountable—scaling a six-foot wall in order to join the Los Angeles Police Department, opening an independent bookstore, and sitting down to write a novel—are eventually mastered with quiet tenacity and a sheer force of will. The actual happy marriage, which was the one thing she felt she wasn't capable of, ultimately proves to be a metaphor as well as a fact: Patchett has devoted her life to the people and ideals she loves the most.

An irresistible blend of literature and memoir, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a unique examination of the heart, mind, and soul of one of our most revered and gifted writers.
My Thoughts:

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of 23 essays (including the introduction) written by Ann Patchett between 1996 and 2012. The stories not only showcase some of the nonfiction she has written,  but they serve as a genuine introduction to the person of Ann Patchett. It is a well-known fact that Patchett is an excellent writer. How she approached this pinnacle of success is well documented in the introduction and the subsequent essays bear the truth/fruit of her efforts.

Some of these essays originally appeared in some form in various magazines: Atlantic Monthly, Audible, Gourmet, Granta, Harper's, New York Times, Vogue, and the Washington Post Magazine. Others were written for a venue with this collection also in mind. 

Actually, I'm hard pressed to pick favorites from her essays since I found strong points in each one. They all deal with commitments, whether it is to a spouse or a dog or a grandmother or a state or a vocation or an idea. But what all of these essays excel at is tutoring and illustrating how it should be done for would-be-writers. All of these essays are just as compelling as any short story and prove the point that a good writer can write about the ordinariness of everyday life, like caring for a loved one, and make it interesting, honest, and poetic. 

All of these essays have something to say. The writing is outstanding... simply superlative. Patchett is able to accurately describe scenes and people in such an extraordinary way that you will feel a connection to the writing. While this is a collection of essays, in many ways it also functions as a memoir, an incredibly literary and beautifully rendered memoir with insightful vignettes and heart-felt disclosures.

Fans of Patchett's fiction should do themselves a favor and purchase this collection asap.  

To Patchett I just want to say:  Thank you for giving me a small glimpse of some of the things composting in your humus. The brief scenes and insight you chose to share have widened my perspective of your work and given me an even greater appreciation of your talent.

Very Highly Recommended




Nonfiction, an Introduction explains the fact that a writer has to earn a living too. It covers how Patchett not only paid her dues as a freelance nonfiction writer, but also how this helped her become a better writer.

How to Read  a Christmas Story is a recollection of various Christmas memories and her first happy Christmas.

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life - is another great essay for those who want to be writers. Two thoughts to share:

"I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I've had, gets shoveled onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots. It's from that dark, rich humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know and what you've forgotten, that ideas start to grow." (pg 41)

"I believe in keeping several plots going at once. The plot of a novel should be like walking down a busy city street.... All manner of action and movement is rushing toward you and away. But that isn't enough.... Many writers feel that plot is passe' - they're so over plot, who needs plot?  - to which I say: Learn how to construct one first, and then feel free to reject it." (pg. 48)

The Sacrament of Divorce is about her very short, first marriage. "Honey, I know. Things happen that you never thought were possible." (pg. 65)

The Paris Match is about a trip to Paris and a word game.

This Dog's Life is the story of how she found her dog, Rose.

In The Best Seat in the House she explains how she satisfies her love of opera.

My Road to Hell Was Paved is about renting a Winnebago to explore RVing in the American West for an article.

In Tennessee she reflects on some of her experiences living in the state.

On Responsibility is about caring for her dog and her grandmother.

The Wall is about the time Patchettt went through the written and physical tests to try out for the police academy in Los Angeles.

Fact vs. Fiction is the Miami University of Ohio Convocation Address of 2005.

In My Life in Sales Patchett reflects on going out on book tours to sell her novels.

"The Love Between the Two Women Is Not Normal" discusses a protest at Clemson University over Patchett's nonfiction book Truth and Beauty, a memoir about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy.

The Right to Read is the Clemson Freshman Convocation Address of 2006.

Do Not Disturb discusses Pachett checking into the Hotel Bel-Air for some peace and quiet in order to get some work done.

Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2006 (self-explanatory)

Love Sustained is a moving tribute to her grandmother.

The Bookstore Strikes Back explains how Patchett came to be co-owner of an independent bookstore in Nashville, Parnassus Books.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is the story of her family history of failed marriages in comparison to her now successful relationship.

In Our Deluge, Drop by Drop, Patchett reflects on flooding.

In Dog without End she is faced with her faithful companion Rose's decline in health.

In The Mercies Patchett helps Sister Nena, a Sister of Mercy and former teacher, move into an apartment by herself for the first time at age 78.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for review purposes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour!