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This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 5, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This is the story of how best-selling novelist Patchett (State of Wonder, 2011) became a writer. As a young child in California and, after her parents’ divorce, Nashville, she knew she had to write, and she was fortunate, as she so warmly and vividly explains, in her writing teachers—Allan Gurganus, Grace Paley, and Russell Banks—and in her success supporting herself by writing nonfiction for magazines and newspapers, beginning with Seventeen and extending to the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Vogue, and Gourmet. Patchett now assembles a retrospective set of 22 sterling personal essays to form an episodic, piquant, instructive, and entertaining self-portrait. She reflects on her family, life on a Tennessee farm, literary discipline and inspiration, and her failed first marriage. Her second marriage is central to her hilarious account of an RV road trip, and the full measure of Patchett’s toughness and daring surfaces in “The Wall,” a riveting account of her father, a captain when he retired after 30 years on the Los Angeles police force, coaching her as she takes the grueling admission test for the Los Angeles Police Academy. A self-described “workhorse” who has even opened an independent bookstore, Patchett is a commanding and incisive storyteller, whether her tales are true or imagined. --Donna Seaman


“I had been so engaged by Ann Patchett’s multifaceted story, so lured in by her confiding voice, that I forgot I was on the job. […] As the best personal essays often do, Patchett’s is a two-way mirror, reflecting both the author and her readers.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Patchett’s mastery of nonfiction [is] every bit the equal of her skill as a novelist.” (Shelf Awareness)

“All the essays were a joy to read...No matter your interest, you’ll find words in this book that speak to you.” (Real Simple)

“Each of the essays is its own delight and resonates with warmth and humor… If read straight through, the book presents a lovely and lyrical look at a life well lived.” (Library Journal)

“Readable and candid, Patchett’s collection is a joyful celebration of life, love and the written word.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Reading Patchett is like spending time with a deeply perceptive longtime pal, or a new friend that one instantly connects with.” (USA Today)

“[A] sparkling collection.” (The New Yorker)

“Happy marriage, compelling writing and all worthy endeavor requires hard work. That’s Patchett’s strength. And she does a fine job.” (Miami Herald)

“Patchett … is one of our best contemporary novelists. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage reminds us that she is an exceptional writer of nonfiction, too. Her prose is a pleasure to read, regardless of genre.” (Dallas Morning News)

“Novelist Ann Patchett’s excellent essay collection ranges from dogs to writing to white-knuckled air travel.” (Christian Science Monitor)

“While being an artistic crafter of words, Patchett also has a storyteller’s ability to sketch a moment so vividly you can’t fail to see how her own writing life was developed.” (Aspen Daily News)

“In this heartfelt collection of autobiographical essays, the novelist opens up about love, friendship, and family, exhibiting the compassionate voice that is a hallmark of her fiction.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)

“It is a feat that Ann Patchett remains so lovable as a narrator, and so engaging as a storyteller, when writing about her excellent career, personal life, dog, and husband.” (Newsday)

“Patchett’s is a no-nonsense voice: clear, sane, companionable… [T]he funny, frank and nervy ‘The Getaway Car’ (possibly worth the book’s price) plunges readers, roller-coaster style, into the story of Patchett’s writing life—essentially, this collection’s real subject.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“[I]n this terrific, wide-ranging collection, Patchett demonstrates how a pro does it.” (NPR's Fresh Air)

“All of the essays, which have been collected from her magazine work over two decades, are excellent. Patchett writes enviable prose—fluid, simple, direct, clear, and fearless…” (

“Ann Patchett most definitely has something to say, in her fully realized and beautiful voice.” (Huffington Post)

“[A]ll of the periodical pieces collected are finely polished, worthy of their packaging between two hard covers.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Writing of loss and of the complications of love, Patchett lets down her guard … and opens both her sense of humor and her heart.” (Columbus Dispatch)

“Wit-filled and elegantly executed” (Entertainment Weekly)

“The best advertisement for Ann Patchett’s new collection of nonfiction is anything else Ms. Patchett has written...Ms. Patchett’s style is not overly confessional, but it is beguiling in ways that make her sound like someone you’d want to know.” (New York Times)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062236679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062236678
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (427 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 1990, she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. In 1993, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Patchett's second novel, Taft, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994. Her third novel, The Magician's Assistant, was short-listed for England's Orange Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship.Her next novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year. It sold more than a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She was also the editor of Best American Short Stories 2006.Patchett has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times magazine, Harper's, The Atlantic,The Washington Post, Gourmet, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Karl VanDevender.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 131 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Before Ann Patchett achieved fame as a novelist, she honed her writing skills as a contributor to Seventeen, where she worked for eight years. She also wrote articles for such publications as Elle, Vogue, Gourmet, and the New York Times Magazine. These free-lance jobs paid Ann's bills and taught her self-discipline, flexibility, and humility. "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage" is a compilation of Ann Patchett's most memorable essays.

All of Patchett's pieces are nicely done, but some are particularly meaningful. I was deeply moved by the author's account of the time she spent with her aging grandmother, who was gradually losing her sight, memory, and ability to think clearly. "The Mercies" is a wonderful tribute to the nuns, especially Sister Nena, who taught Ann to read and write when she was slow to catch on and thought no one would notice. Years later, Sister Nena and Ann reconnected; the two became close friends. Ann supported her former teacher with money for needy children and also offered her time, effort, and comradeship. She no longer regarded Sister Nena as a forbidding and judgmental presence. Instead she recognized her as an exemplary human being to be reckoned with--an independent, compassionate, hard-working, and indomitable force of nature.

With self-deprecating humor, refreshing candor, and lovely, expressive writing, the author generously shares details about her past and reveals what her experiences have taught her about relationships, intellectual freedom, and personal growth. The best entries in this collection are wise, witty, poignant, and refreshingly down-to-earth.
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Over the past several years I have spent many enjoyable hours in the company of Ann Patchett's fictional characters and their joys and travails. I rank her "Bel Canto" among my top five fiction faves and probably always will.

Now I find myself here, greatly enjoying getting to know her real-life world--how she knew from childhood that she would become a writer, and used the profits from writing for magazines and newspapers to buy herself time to write fiction...the long history and impact of divorce in her family...why it took a crisis and an 11-year courtship to persuade her to have a second go at wedlock...why she hates Christmas, loves dogs and probably couldn't live without one, and loves kids but has never wanted any of her own...the many influences of Catholicism and Tennessee in her life...tales of adventures she's set out on as part of her research for books and magazine articles--like vacationing in a Winnebago and training for and passing the rigorous physical tests for becoming an LAPD cop....and the uproar that ensued at Clemson after it assigned its incoming freshman class to read "Truth and Beauty," her book about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, and how she handled that.

At this writing, I've read about three quarters of this collection of pieces written for or adapted from magazines, newspapers and speeches--most of them running about five or six pages, and a couple, including the title story, about 25 or 30. It's my plan to parcel out the remainder in smallish bits for those times when I'm looking for a quick read that's sure to be interesting and seasoned with food for thought. I can just about always count on Patchett for that.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Rita Sydney on July 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Once begun on these essays, I finished them in a couple sittings, sorry to have my time with Ann Patchett come to an end.

Written between 1996 and 2012 for a variety of publications (Gourmet to Wall Street Journal) the author describes diverse experiences: touring in a Winnebago; watching Met operas in her home town at a big screen theatre; going on book tour; taking the exam for the Los Angeles Police Academy; staying at the Bel-Air hotel; opening her bookstore, Parnassus, in Nashville.

The title of the collection is from the essay that describes how the author came to marry Karl after over 10 years of on/off commitment but refusing to wed. She'd been married before years ago ("My divorce began less than a week before we were married.") and vowed never to divorce again.

Because Patchett's life is the background for many essays, Karl is a part of several: the RV trip, the rescue of the dog who became her beloved Rose, a memorable meal in Paris.

The author knew she wanted to be a fiction writer from an early age. Other decisions grew out of her early life. She and her sister "weren't the products of our parents' happy marriages; we were the flotsam of their divorces....I was still in high school when I decided I didn't want children....I would never inflict childhood on anybody..."

This is not to imply Patchett is an uncaring person. The two essays about her grandmother show patient loving support as the women declines. The final essay in the volume is about her relationship with 78 year old Sister Nena who as a young nun had a life-altering role in young Ann's life.

Rose, the rescue dog, was a big part of the author's life.
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