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Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is mostly known for her novels, but I've read (and thoroughly loved) her two nonfiction books. This one isn't a memoir, but rather a collection of essays, many of which are memoirish, but there's no through-narrative. The closest thing is simply watching Ann's maturing, in glimpses, in bursts, and over time seeing how she becomes who she is, and how her becoming that, and her finding the right partner, leads her to be happy. She does have a funny answer to the title question: You marry early and badly, divorce, stay single for 20+ years, refuse to marry the man who proposes to you a dozen times, and finally say yes when you think he's going to die, and have him turn out not to die. If you do all of that, you'll have a happy marriage. Because that's the only way she knows how to do it.

Aspiring writers should most definitely read this as she talks about the difficulties of touring, of what it was like for her first couple of books, which were not raving successes, as she talks about trying to balance work, writing, and marriage in her 20s, and as she talks about being a success now. Her particular path won't work for anyone but her, but there are gems in the commonalities. I particularly loved the chapter about an aborted book project for which she took the Los Angeles police entrance exams. Her father was a cop, so he really was charmed by her interest, even though he knew it was a literary interest and she didn't want to actually be a cop. But then, when I know she never wrote the book about it, I do wonder if maybe more of her interest in that topic wasn't about her father, and she was using "it's a book idea" as an excuse?

She narrates the book which was great. Particularly as a fellow Nashvillian, she pronounced some trickier local names correctly. In the chapter where she meets up with a former teacher, a nun, who is elderly, and they become friends, I was excited that I guessed she'd gone to St. Bernard's before she said it (which is pronounced Ber-nerd, not Ber-nArd). And it was great fun to hear my friend and mentor Mary Grey James mentioned several times (she was the first manager of Parnassus Books, and she introduced Ann to Karen Hayes, her eventual business partner in the bookstore venture.)  It was delightful and charming without being twee or sweet. She feels very honest (although I do think part of why it isn't a straightforward memoir is that she's judiciously leaving parts out. But she's entitled to some privacy.) I wish she'd write a dozen more. I would gobble them up.

I checked this eaudiobook book out of the library via Overdrive.

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