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The Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett.

September 2, 2013

 The Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett.  Harper (2013), Hardcover, 320 pages

An enjoyable collection of nonfiction articles by a popular American novelist.

I have read and loved all of Ann Patchett’s novels, but I had no idea that she had also published nonfictional pieces in a variety of papers and magazines.  As she explains in the introduction of her new book, writing such articles was her way of supporting herself until her career as a writer of fiction took off.  She found these articles a far better means of support than the waitress and teaching jobs she had tried.

This collection includes a sampling of her articles, which appeared in a variety of publications from Vogue to the Wall Street Journal.  Many are about her own life, such as the title essay “The Story of a Happy Marriage.”  One article is about the controversy around the assignment of her book, Truth and Beauty, to freshmen at Clemson.  Patchett also was sometimes given writing assignments and an expense account to cover topics.  Her article about her trip in a mobile home is another type of article.  Although she had assumed she would write something cutting and sarcastic, she found much to appreciate and enjoy in her experience.

My favorite articles were those in which Patchett discussed how she writes.  In “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life.” she tells of her education and history as a writer and offers her life as an example for those who are aspiring to a literary career.  She makes clear that she can only say what worked for her; others will have to decide what works for them.  While I have no literary ambitions, I was fascinated to see how she has created the books that I have enjoyed.

Patchett claims that finding ideas of what to write about are the easy part; it’s putting them down on paper that is the real work.  Coming up with an idea and working it out in her head is, for her, the happiest part of writing.

This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal to its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight is the single perfect joy in my life.

But actually starting to write the book is like killing a butterfly in order to preserve it.

It’s the only way I can get something that is three-dimensional onto the flat page…Everything that was beautiful about this living thing—all the color, the light and the movement—is gone.  What I am left with is the dry husk of my friend; the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.

In order to deal with this disappointment, she has learned to forgive herself.  She sees self-forgiveness as “the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.”

For Patchett, the plot and the characters don’t just happen but are the result of hard work and her personal decisions.

What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it’s the closest thing to being God that you’re ever going to get.  All the decisions are yours.  You decide when the sun comes up. You decide who gets to fall in love and who gets hit by a truck….My characters no more write the book than the puppets take over the puppet show.

As a writer, “you create an order for the universe and then you set that universe in motion.”  The logic of that universe, the plot, may led in directions you hadn’t expected, but it is still your universe.

I read a review ebook provided by the publisher.  It will be published on November 5, 2013.

I gladly recommend this book to all who enjoy a variety of non-fiction and those like myself who will read anything by Ann Patchett.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 2, 2013 9:47 pm

    Sounds intriguing, especially the mobile home story. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

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