Perhaps you love Ann Patchett’s novels, like State of Wonder and Bel Canto. Truth & Beauty, her standout memoir about her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy, might have a special spot on your shelf. Or maybe you heard how she co-founded Parnassus, an indie bookstore in Nashville that opened its doors after two other local bookstores closed. She’s something of an all-star, and however you arrived at Patchett fandom, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage has something for you.
Fans of Patchett’s fiction will be fascinated by her views on writing nonfiction, which she says is a great way for a novelist to make a living—much better than waiting tables or teaching college kids. She’d much prefer to “knock off an essay” than do the grueling work of “facing down” the next chapter of her novel-in-progress. And as the book shows, Patchett has knocked off quite a few essays over the years, about experiences ranging from driving an RV across the American West (“My Road to Hell Was Paved”) to the title story’s tale of how she fell in love with her husband, by way of an ill-fated first marriage and her subsequent rejection of the very idea of matrimony.
This collection gathers writing across 20 years of Patchett’s life and lets readers in on her best personal stories. Did you know, for instance, that she once seriously trained to enter the L.A. Police Academy? That she considers her grandmother to be one of the great loves of her life? That she still has relationships with some of the nuns who taught her in grammar school? These stories and more are told in simple, appealing prose that feels like a phone conversation with a good friend.
And the book is a great read. Essays are artfully selected and arranged—certain pieces read back-to-back provide a fuller, more interesting story than one would alone. Patchett tells us that early in life she knew she had “a knack for content” when it came to writing. This collection is evidence of that knack, across many different contexts and over many years. It will be a welcome addition to many bookshelves, including my own.