‘We are, on this earth, so incredibly small, in the history of time, in the crowd of the world, we are practically invisible, not even a dot, and yet we have each other to hold on to’.
‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.270
Ann Patchett’s collection of non-fiction is an interesting and varied insight into the well-renowned American fiction writer, best-known for her award-winning novel, Bel Canto (which I have yet to read). Although I have never read any of Ann Patchett’s novels, I knew of her and her highly-regarded reputation. She has been on my to-be-read list for a very long time and it was with pleasure that I found this hardback edition of This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage on the shelf of one of my favourite bookshop cafe’s in Hong Kong, Kubrick (which I will write about soon in a separate post).
‘The one thing I allowed myself was the certainty of future happiness. Even though the history of literature was filled with alcoholics, insane asylums, and shotguns, I could not imagine that I would be miserable if I received the only thing I wanted’.
‘The Getaway Car’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.20
Ann Patchett knew from a very early age that she wanted to be a writer. The first essay in the collection begins with the bitter childhood Christmases she experienced after her parents got divorced. Spending subsequent Christmas days with her mother and her new partner, as well as her partner’s kids, Patchett remembers the traditionally depressing phone calls she would have with her father. However, on this particular Christmas her father reads her a story from a newspaper – a story, she describes, as ‘the best gift I have no record of’ (pg.18). As her father reads her this story about a young orphaned girl living with nuns, she recalls the power and influence stories have had in her life from a very young age.
‘I may at times forget the details of my life but I remember the stories I read. Plots, characters, entire passages of dialogue are stencilled on my brain. They are softened now but for the most part legible. Authors – poor authors! – are gone completely. It was much, much later that I took any notice of who was doing the writing’.
‘How to Read a Christmas Story’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.14
Ann Patchett’s collection of essays vary drastically from her experience of trying to make it as a writer to the death of her beloved dog, Rose, and her attempt at thirty years of age to apply for the LA Police Department, but there is one recurring thread that weaves these essays together and that is her love and passion for writing, people and life. what I loved about Patchett’s collection is the searing honesty with which she writes. As she states in the introduction:
‘Many of the essays I’m proudest of were made from things that were at hand – writing and love, work and loss. I may have roamed in my fiction, but this work tends to reflect a life lived close to home’.
‘Nonfiction, An Introduction’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.10
Ann Patchett didn’t get to where she is now the easy way. At twenty-four years of age she was divorced and working as a waitress in a popular food-chain whilst she tried to get her life back together. She grew up in a dysfunctional family where happy marriages were non-existent. She was always determined to make it as a writer but didn’t let this determination get in the way of loving and caring for the people close to her. Whilst reading these personal insights into her life I felt I could see the person behind the gifted and exceptionally talented writer. She is human – with flaws and weaknesses – like anyone else. She has made regrettable decisions in her time, and may continue to do so, yet her ability to forgive and love herself and others is what makes this collection of essays a truly personal and honest account in itself.
The title story, ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’, was worth the price of the book alone. Full of wonderful wisdom and experience about love and loss, Patchett makes such an individual account of divorce and marriage universal, relatable and inspiring. Marriage doesn’t have to be the ‘inevitable outcome of love’.
‘Sometimes love does not have the most honourable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It’s everything in between we live for’.
‘Dog Without End’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.284