This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is the first Ann Patchett I have read. Without reservation, I loved it. While reading, I think I may have developed just the tiniest bit of a crush on her, as is often the case, I am almost embarrassed to admit, with many of my favorite authors. But most of her stories/essays read like a deep, intelligent conversation you would have with a brilliant friend, perhaps late at night. Over coffee, maybe. How could I not be enchanted?
In reviewing any collection, it is often tempting to identify a favorite. That would be a challenge here, though I think in terms of just pure enjoyment, I liked her “The Getaway Car” most, with “The Bookstore Strikes Back” being a close second. Her descriptions regarding the writing process rang very familiar, as did her sentiments identifying as a writer. I admire her passion and singularity of conviction/focus. When she describes wanting to be a writer, I think “me too, me too, that’s exactly how I feel.” But she has dedicated her entire life to that dream, whereas I have largely pursued other goals instead. Still, she’s an inspiration. She makes me feel (almost) like I could actually do it.
But those were not the only essays I enjoyed. Each entry was special; each contained thought-provoking insights. Like the idea from her essay on divorce that “[t]here can be something cruel about people who have had good fortune. They equate it with personal goodness,” or the at-first-glance funny, but also profound, if somewhat uncomfortable thought that while some people may get a dog when they really want a baby, others may have a baby when what they really want is a dog.
She is very smart, and clearly sees life, sees people, in a way that is at once unique and familiar. She has a bright, confident (but not condescending or pedantic) voice. You could picture yourself listening to her lecture, but also casually conversing over lunch or chatting on the phone. She seems like she would be approachable (yes, I am not so naive as not to realize that some or all of that feeling may purely be that false intimacy we feel when reading certain authors; but I love that sensation, even if false, so I don’t care. Ann and I would be the best of friends if ever we happened to meet, or so I will keep telling myself). She also seems like at least a little bit of a badass. See “The Wall” (her essay on trying out for admission to the LAPD police academy, and making it).
I now want to read all her novels and other essays, and hers will be high on my list for cross-country independent bookstore pilgrimage destinations. I highly recommend her collection.