This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
hardcover, 320 pagesa review copy of this book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is the perfect book for me, that happy blend of subject, voice, and story. I was already enamored of Ann Patchett (I loved Bel Canto almost beyond words, and State of Wonder was another favorite) but now I have that weird, totally illusory feeling that the author and I are really on intimate terms, the best of friends. That probably isn't so strange as it seems for someone who has always found immeasurable solace in books. I have learned more about life and people from novels than from life itself (hey, there's research to back that up). And I would much rather read a book than go to a party (yes, I'm an introvert). But I do make myself go to parties occasionally, and I usually do have fun.
Here are the reasons that Ann Patchett and I are best friends in the real but make-believe world of books: we both had disastrous first marriages and happy second ones; we both overlook the obvious when it comes to basic life lessons; we both read and fell in love with Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain at a formative age.
Of course one of us is a highly successful novelist who writes like an absolute dream, and one of us is a high school English teacher who writes a book blog and dreams of writing a novel. Still, we're almost like twins.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage won me over quite thoroughly--even though at first I thought this might not be my kind of book. It is a collection of previously published and newly published essays, a blend of memoir and literary chat that I wasn't convinced was going to hang together. But I found myself completely charmed by Patchett's authorial voice, which really is like that of a friend settling in for a series of cozy talks. Patchett is honest, self-deprecating, but artful. She writes beautifully and nakedly about writing--her own process, and what it takes to actually be a writer:
Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.Patchett has, from her youth, made the decision to place her writing at the top of her list of priorities. She has figured out a few things about the art and craft of writing, and in "The Getaway Car," she puts them on the page for the reader. "Write it out. Tell the truth. Stack up the pages. Learn to write by writing." She also reminds the reader of what must be true, since so many writers say it in so many ways: "If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say." Patchett was fortunate to study with three influential writers, Allan Gurganus, Grace Paley, and Russell Banks, and she shares the lessons she learned from each of these very different teachers.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage touches on writing, solitude, opera, friendship, and divorce. Patchett tells the story of her independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, in "The Bookstore Strikes Back." Another reason Ann Patchett and I are secret besties who will never meet: she opened an independent bookstore in Nashville because her city didn't have a bookstore and needed one. And because she believed in readers and books, and she believed that readers and books will always need each other. Also, Ann Patchett is my forever friend because when Eudora Welty died, she picked up the phone and told a friend "I'm going to the funeral," even though she didn't actually know Eudora Welty. She just needed to pay homage to her and her writing.
And in the way that everything is connected, especially books and writers and readers, the friend she called was Barry Moser, the incredibly gifted artist who is married to independent bookseller Emily Crowe. And Emily and her husband went to the funeral too. (Emily writes about books at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads).
The essay I loved most of all, that I marked up the most, dropped food on, and cried over, was the title essay. "This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage" is the most breathtakingly perfect essay in the collection, and it is memoir but with the perfect arc of story and all the emotion of a novel. Here is one of my favorite passages in the essay, and I have to admit that Patchett could have been writing this about me:
It was as if I had been born before Freud. I existed in a world without psychology, and by psychology I'm not talking about therapy or analysis....I though that men were like houses, that you could buy one on the cheap that had potential and just fix it up, and that fixing it up was actually better than getting a house that was already good because you could make it just the way you wanted it.Yes, exactly.
So, I loved this book, and I'm not sure whether I loved this book because it really was the perfect book for me, or maybe I loved this book because Ann Patchett is such a good writer that she made me feel as though she was writing this book just for me. Anyway, either way, get this book.
Below, just two of the places you can go on the internet to find out more about Ann Patchett and her bookstore Parnassus Books.