This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

I didn’t realize when I first picked up this book that it’s a collection of essays; I thought instead that it was a memoir. But I didn’t mind — I like both genres. And, as it turns out, the essays are mostly autobiographical, so I learned a lot about Patchett’s life by reading them. Patchett is a good writer, and I liked all of the essays, some more than others, of course. The most memorable one for me wasn’t the title essay, although that was very good, but “The Bookstore Strikes Back,” about opening Parnassus Books in Nashville. The essay is partly the history of the bookstore itself, but it’s also a passionate argument for the value of bookstores, and for the demand for them. Patchett argues that people are ready to support their local, independent bookstores, and I certainly hope she is right. Anyone at all tempted to open their own store would be encouraged by this essay to give it a try, maybe foolishly, maybe not. But at any rate, her enthusiasm is infectious.

The title essay is also very good, the story of Patchett’s two, very different, marriages. There are several essays about writing and literature, and those I liked, particularly one about going on book tours. Her essay on giving a convocation speech at Clemson University over the protests of students and parents who found her book Truth and Beauty offensive is very good. Overall, Patchett’s voice is engaging, and she seems like a fascinating, vibrant person. I’ll admit I felt some disappointment at times, especially with some of the less personal essays where Patchett’s own history and personality is not the focus, but I also felt this way about the collection as a whole. I wanted more depth, more complexity, more that felt surprising. The essays were solid, but not revelatory. Ultimately, although this is a strong collection, I felt that Patchett is best as a novelist.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

  1. I’ve read both “Truth and Beauty” by Patchett and “Autobiography Of A Face” by Lucy Grealy, so I’m anxious to read this new book once I get to the top of the library hold list! After reading your review, I’m even more eager to get my hands on a copy.

    • I hope you enjoy it! I’m looking forward to getting to the books you mention, particularly the Grealy one. Perhaps I should read that first?

      • I don’t know…I read “Truth and Beauty” first and found it such an intriguing look at friendship. I then ran out and bought Lucy’s book which was so different from Patchett’s in so many ways. I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to taint your experience with them!

  2. Some of the essays sound really good, too bad they all weren’t. I am tempted to borrow if from the library just for the essay on her bookstore. But then I have always dreamed of owning a bookstore, what reader hasn’t right? So maybe I won’t read it especially if it might make me seriously start to think I could have a store of my own!

  3. And would you believe I was sent this book for review a couple of weeks ago…???? It’s too funny – I can’t wait to see what you’ll read next. Perhaps I should start laying bets? I’m glad you enjoyed most of this, though. I’m still very curious to read it (and particularly after doing this personal essay writing course!).

  4. I love Patchett’s novels but hadn’t realised that she was an essayist as well. I will try the library for this but I don’t think it’s the sort of thing they will automatically buy and we are having to wait forever for purchase requests at the moment. It may be easier just to buy my own copy in the first place.

    • Alex — do you ever get digital review copies from Edelweiss or Netgalleys? I got my copy that way. You generally need to read the books within a certain time frame before they expire, but if you can do that, it’s a great way to get books early to review.

      • I used to use Netgalleys, Rebecca, but they had so little I was interested in and you had to review the books, which was fair but not always something I had time for, that I let the membership lapse. Perhaps the time has come to investigate it again.

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