Book review: “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” by A. Patchett

by Rebecca Henderson Palmer on January 29, 2018

Recently recommended by Reese Witherspoon for her virtual book club, I picked this one up hesitantly, despite it being on Reese’s “must read” list. I have never read one of Ms. Patchett’s works of fiction, but I thought maybe this collection of essays would be a way to dip my toe in the water. What I got, from my perspective, was a very mixed bag.

My biggest issue with most of these types of collections is that they are simply individual one-off publications that a writer has completed over a span of time, and someone thought “let’s throw them together in a book ten years later to sell more copies!” The result is usually a mishmash of topics, audiences, and themes, little of which aligns with anything else. That is certainly the case here.

There is no doubt that Ms. Patchett is a hugely talented writer. The essays on her marriage (the same one that gives this book its title), her beloved dog Rose, her words of wisdom to students on the Clemson campus (we could certainly use more lectures like that around college campuses these days!) feel very honest, emotional, and vivid. They are simply captivating. And then there are others, such as her very long description of all the magazines she worked for before she became a novelist, the unexpected roads that culminated in her buying a bookstore (against everyone else’s advice, we are reminded often, but which now, of course, is a huge success), and her endless devotion to her grandmother in her final years (which should be poignant but felt oddly removed, more like a list of chores she carried out until the end).

Perhaps I’m a cynic and there’s more to this than just repackaging previously published work, but after this, which did include a few gems, I’m inclined to stick to my original opinion.

Amazon link is here.

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