Sunday, November 10, 2013
This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett is known these days as the voice of the independent bookseller after opening a successful bookstore in Nashville. She claims that title with pride, but of course, she is also one of this country's preeminent novelists. In This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, Patchett lets the reader into her life. The book is a collection of essays she has written at various times, and is an exploration of her life.
One of the early essays is titled The Getaway Car. In it, Patchett explores her writing life; how she learned to write by starting with short stories, the mentors she had such as Allen Gurganus and Grace Paley, and the friends she made such as Elizabeth McCraken who sustained her as she found her writing voice. She talks about her time in education, both on the undergraduate level and in a MFA program. Along with these memories, she dispenses writing advice to those interested in becoming authors; what worked for her and what she has found unhelpful.
Other essays explore her childhood in Tennessee, her first disastrous marriage, the jobs she took in order to support herself as she got established as a writer, and her family relationships. She discusses the love she has for her mother and father and the great influence her grandmother had on her life. Patchett writes about her successful second marriage. She also writes about one of the other loves of her life, her dog.
In 2006, Patchett's book about her friendship with Lucy Grealy was chosen as the freshman required read at Clemson University in South Carolina. Lucy was also a writer, and her life was marked by her childhood bout with cancer, and the years of surgery and chemotherapy that cured her, but only after disfiguring her severely. After her death, Patchett wrote the book Truth And Beauty to memorialize Lucy's life. Fundamentalists in South Carolina disapproved of the book which had sex and drugs in it, and attempted to get Clemson to rescind the selection and ban Patchett from the campus. She writes about this time in her life, and the convocation speech she gave to that freshman class. It is a stirring indictment of ignorance and how a writer should respond to such criticism.
This book is highly recommended for both readers and writers. What shines through is Patchett's true vocation as an author; one that she was willing to make any sacrifice for. It is interesting to note the loyalty she gives to anything she takes up; her family, her pet, her marriage, her friends, even her city of Nashville, Tennessee. It is rewarding for readers to hear about the authors she thinks are good authors, and validating for those who also appreciate them. The reader will finish this book with a new appreciation for Patchett and her mark on American literature.