In this book of essays, Ann Patchett discusses her writing career, her relationships, and her life’s lessons. It’s probably very difficult to put together this many advice and memoir essays without coming off as self-righteous at least part of the time. That said, the lessons she imparts are worth learning.
The book opens with essays about Patchett’s writing career: how she got where she is today and what that place actually looks like. This was my favorite part of the book, because the essays focused on working hard, trying hard, and having a lot of luck. You only get better at writing by doing it, something I need to be reminded of when I get distracted by other “obligations” in my life. I was inspired by how she built stories in her head while waiting tables and how she came up with a million ideas for magazine articles, just hoping that something would stick. In her essay about book tours, she brought up a lot of points I hadn’t considered, since I haven’t had the privilege to do that (yet).
The personal memoir essays were also interesting and could be very touching. That said, Patchett’s life comes off as some sort of Writer Fantasy World that’s hard not to envy. By coincidence, I was reading Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half (book) at the same time, and that served as a much-needed contrast. It was like switching between Lesley Knope and Liz Lemon; you sort of need one to balance out the other. So maybe my dog, as much as I love him, will never be the perfect specimen of dog that Patchett’s Rose was. He’s a lot closer to Brosh’s Simple Dog, actually, which made me laugh. And maybe I’m an aspiring writer who hasn’t worked and tried hard enough to get a paid fellowship to write my first novel. At least I got off the couch and showered today, and that’s pretty alright.
I should also add that this is the only writing of Patchett’s I’ve (knowingly) read. I’m not sure why that would matter, especially considering that the writing-advice essays were my favorites, but from skimming through other reviews, it seems to matter a lot. I picked up this book because of the “Fresh Air” interview, and then I thought it was going to be a full memoir, not essays. As it turns out, I probably liked this format better.
I recommend This is the Story of a Happy Marriage for writers and for die-hard Patchett fans. But keep in mind that for every Lesley Knope, there’s a Liz Lemon out there setting the bar at a reasonable standard for the rest of us.
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