Happy Marriage?

Yes, Bill and I were happily married for seven years despite the fact that I had to care for him at home, but that’s not what I’m writing about this time. I just finished reading This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. I blogged about this author a year ago when I reviewed The Patron Saint of Liars.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of essays not just about Ann Patchett’s marriage but about other aspects of her life. In one piece, she talks about what it was like to be a child of divorced parents, living with her mother in Tennessee and occasionally visiting her father in California and talking to him on the phone. In another, she describes how her father, a cop, influenced her to train for and take the Los Angeles police academy’s entrance exams which she did just so she could write about the experience. She also talks about her memoir, Truth and Beauty, in which she describes her friendship with another writer who was disfigured as a result of cancer and died of a drug overdose. She provides the impassioned speech she gave to incoming freshmen at a small southern university in 2006, despite controversy surrounding the book. In “The Bookstore Strikes Back,” she relates how she opened Parnassus Books in Nashville in 2011 when the city had no other bookstores. In the’ title essay, she talks about her first marriage and divorce and how she married her second husband Karl years later after swearing she would never marry again.

Besides The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett wrote five novels: Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and State of Wonder. She edited Best American Short Stories in 2006 and wrote one other nonfiction book besides Truth and Beauty and This is The Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s called What Now and is an expansion of her commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s workshop and received numerous awards and fellowships including England’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faukner Award, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Book Sense Book of the Year, a Gugenheim Fellowship, The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, the American Bookseller’s Association’s Most Engaging Author Award, and the Women’s National Book Association’s Award. Her books were New York Times Notable Books and New York Times Bestsellers. Her work was translated into over thirty languages.

Since she opened Parnassus Books, she has advocated for independent booksellers and talked about books and bookstores on NPR’s “The Colbert Report,” “The Martha Stewart Show,” and “The CBS Early Show.” She was the honorary chair of World Book Night along with James Patterson. In 2012, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. She lives in Nashville with her husband Karl VanDevender and their dog Sparky. For more information about her and her books, visit http://annpatchett.com/ .

One essay in this book made me wonder if I should like Ann Patchett. She talks about her dog Rose and how she made the painful decision to have her put down when the dog could no longer walk, see, or eat. Then she talks about how she acquired Rose.

She and her husband saw Rose as a puppy at a local park. At the time, a girl was planning to give Rose away at an upcoming dog show. After Ann and her husband left the park, Rose tugged at Ann’s heart strings, and she insisted on returning to the park and collecting her. When they did, they found Rose in the arms of a five-year-old deaf girl. Ann lied to the little girl’s mother, saying there was a misunderstanding, that the owner promised the puppy to her, and unfortunately for the little girl, her mother believed Ann’s story. Here’s the irony. Rose is the name of the main character in The Patron Saint of Liars who doesn’t tell anyone about her husband when she checks into a home for unwed mothers, not even after her baby is born.

After giving this careful consideration, I realized that not reading any more of Ann Patchett’s work because she stole a puppy from a five-year-old would be like not letting my teen-aged niece listen to Michael Jackson because he died of a drug overdose. As a society, we often allow a person’s actions to reflect on their careers. There are worse things than stealing a puppy from a five-year-old, and as I write this, I find myself at peace with the issue. Ann Patchett is a baffling author, and I definitely plan to read more of her work including Truth and Beauty. Her writing makes me wonder.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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