March 29, 2014

Book Review: This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage

By : Ann Patchett
Genre: Nonfiction Essays

A synopsis from Goodreads: "Blending literature and memoir, Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto, examines her deepest commitments—to writing, family, friends, dogs, books, and her husband—creating a resonant portrait of a life in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage....As she shares stories of the people, places, ideals, and art to which she has remained indelibly committed, Ann Patchett brings into focus the large experiences and small moments that have shaped her as a daughter, wife, and writer."

As I've gotten older, I have become more and more open - or perhaps just more and more aware - of how much good writing and fascinating stories live in the Nonfiction section. I've come to love reading true stories told well, but almost never do I find myself enthralled by a whole book full of them. That's what this collection did: it enthralled me, not just with its ability to draw me into someone else's life, but by the way Patchett deftly knew what small details were worth including and which ones needed to be left out. As a writer, every turn of the page brings some new amazement: she really nails the framing of each story, creating a world that you can, and want, to insert yourself into.

These essays showcase the beauty and confidence you can find in any of Patchett's books, as well as a beautiful honesty. One of my favorites is an essay about an RV trip with the man that would eventually be her husband, a trip that was both about exploring RV culture and whether or not her relationship with said man was going to work out. Most of the essay is really just about the experience of RV parks, of living in a small space, of nights spent with the window open, thinking about the twists and turns of life...nothing dramatic really happens. And yet, she manages to make it both an incredibly beautiful reflection on life on the move AND a reflection on relationships.

It's difficult to pinpoint what is so wonderful about these essays, and exactly why they kept me up late at night. All I know is that I find myself continually returning to them, trying to figure out how she invents such beauty without inventing any of the facts. If you love good writing and you're interested in studying someone who knows how to write nonfiction like a champion, pick this up.

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