Thursday, August 7, 2014

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, the best-selling author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto, was the perfect book selection last week given my crazy work schedule. The book is a wonderful compilation of some of Patchett’s previously published essays which varied in length, with some only four or five pages long; as such, whether arriving at 10 pm (which I did on Monday) or 8:30 pm (which I did on Tuesday and Wednesday), I was still able to easily find a choice each night that proved to be a short but engaging read to help me unwind after a trying day.

“The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.” So it was that in “making a living” Patchett wrote this delightful array of essays published over the years in various publications, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, and New York Times Magazine, to name just a few. The collection of essays compiled is diverse in subjects, covering everything from advice on writing, her relationship with her grandmother, the happy marriage referenced in the title, her beloved dog Rose, and Sister Nena – the a Catholic nun that helped to teach her to read and write.

As Patchett tells it “Many of the essays I’m proudest of were made from the 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.” Patchett's heart is most definitely found on the page, especially those written about those she loved most which proved to be my favorites, including This Dog’s Life, On Responsibility, Love Sustained, Dog Without End, and The Mercies. Those dearest and nearest (like Rose and grandma Eva) are found in a number of stories that span many years, giving the reader a chance to capture an evocative glimpse of each at various points in their life (young and old, sick or healthy); making the connection with each that much deeper and the emotion more palpable.

Patchett infused so much love and warmth in most of the essays, and filled them with truly inspiring and insightful words of wisdom. There were so many lines and passages that I just loved, and though too many to list them all here (I’ll give you each the joy of discovering them on your own), I will share one or two of my favorites. In This Dog’s Life, in talking about the wonder and beauty of her dog Rose, she says “People seem able to love their dogs with an unabashed acceptance that they rarely demonstrate with family or friends…I want to learn to love people like this, the way I love my dog, with pride and enthusiasm and a complete amnesia for faults. In short, to love others the way my dog loves me.”

This particular passage moved me to tears; it appears in the essay Love Sustained which deals with her beloved grandmother, whom Patchett cared for lovingly and diligently (bathing her, doing her hair, feeding her and more) until the day she passed. After the pain and sorrow of her death, she dreams of her grandmother being well, walking and laughing and not needing her anymore, instead they are “simply together and glad for it“ and then sagely adds “there are always those perfect times with the people we love, those moments of joy and equality that sustain us later on…I try to study our happiness so that I will be able to remember it in the future, just in case something happens and we find ourselves in need. These moments are the foundation upon which we build the house that will shelter us into our final years, so that when love calls out, “How far would you go for me?” you can look it in the eye and say truthfully, “Farther than you would ever have thought possible.”

I’ll admit that I didn’t love every essay in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage though I enjoyed them all, but the ones I did love were incredibly moving and poignant and spoke directly to my heart. I'll definitely be looking for more from Ms. Patchett in the near future.