This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Ann Patchett

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
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This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Ann Patchett

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is an irresistible blend of literature and memoir revealing the big experiences and little moments that shaped Ann Patchett as a daughter, wife, friend and writer. Here, Ann Patchett shares entertaining and moving stories about her tumultuous childhood, her painful early divorce, the excitement of selling her first book, driving a Winnebago from Montana to Yellowstone Park, her joyous discovery of opera, scaling a six-foot wall in order to join the Los Angeles Police Department, the gradual loss of her beloved grandmother, starting her own bookshop in Nashville, her love for her very special dog and, of course, her eventual happy marriage.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
is a memoir both wide ranging and deeply personal, overflowing with close observation and emotional wisdom, told with wit, honesty and irresistible warmth.

Review

In 2011 I saw Ann Patchett speak at the Brisbane Writers Festival. The Orange Prize-winning author was tremendous on stage: funny and smart, teeming with confidence, she seemed to have a natural grace for performance. The story she shared – about how her observance of the news prevented her husband being held hostage in the Congo – was tightly wrought and deeply affecting.

And that is also how I’d describe the best parts of her ‘almost-memoir’, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

This book is a collection of Patchett’s non-fiction writings, published throughout her career. Most are autobiographical – stories of her life, her childhood, romantic entanglement, and of her working habits. In ‘Love Sustained’ she describes her changing relationship with her grandmother after taking on the role of her carer. In ‘The Best Seat in the House’ she talks of her love of opera. The eponymous essay is particularly wonderful and, I promise, not as sentimental as the title suggests. Patchett’s ease with storytelling is once again evident here and, as with her novels, the prose is disarming; you can’t help really liking the Ann you meet here.

With recurring themes and characters, this collection of essays ends up reading as a cohesive whole. Patchett has a tendency to touch on a topic early and then pick it up again later to examine in more detail. It’s a nifty trick. Early on she writes about life with her dog Rose, saying: ‘I thought a dog would be the key to perfect happiness. And I was right. We are perfectly happy.’ Then, near the end of the book, she describes the grief of losing this same dog after 16 years – one of the best pieces on this subject matter I’ve ever read – and it’s a prime example of what sets this collection of essays apart; its tenderness of heart.


Bronte Coates is the Online & Readings Monthly Assistant. She is a co-founder of literary project, Stilts.

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