Sunday, May 10, 2015

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

The collected essays of a practical woman

These essays, for the most part published in the glossy magazines, are about being a writer, being an “Author”, having an aversion to “settling down”; as well as, loyal dogs, loyal granddaughters, an indefatigable nun, and the impossible economics of opening a bookstore. In some way, they all ask: how should one behave?

They were easy to read, mostly because they were written by Ann Patchett, who writes in a clear direct compelling fashion. Since the essays are truly random, however, the energy or the emotion doesn’t build organically, and the main theme is Ann Patchett’s no nonsense yet appealing personality. She comes across as a wholly admirable person. However, these are the essays that appear in Oprah right before the recipes. There is not that frightening feeling of stripping bare the past, being totally exposed, the unblinking examination of the wound (the wound and the gift) inflicted on the child as there is in the great memoirs of Mary Karr and Mary Gordon. (Although Ann does swipe a puppy from a deaf child. As an adult.) It seems clear she had an awful childhood, but the essays don't really delve into it, maybe because that would involve an unsentimental view of Mom and Dad. Nothing wrong with that, only it takes the turbo out of the engine. 

The best essay is “The Wall” which does incorporate several themes, including that of pleasing her abandoned father. Ann engages in some duplicitous behavior when she applies to the LA police academy without any intention of joining, although her father, an honorable much decorated LA cop who was separated from her during her childhood, is eager to help, and indulges his fantasy that maybe she might actually become a cop. He’s sure she’d be a good one, and Ann starts to understand that she’d be good too. There’s another beautiful essay about a nun, “The Mercies”, about Sister Nena who confined 8 year old Ann to the classroom during playtime and forced her to learn how to read. Ann resented being thought of as stupid until she and the nun meet up decades later and she realizes that Sister Nena went to a tremendous amount of effort to help a little girl. It’s a story about how someone you considered a pest was actually your savior.

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