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Recommending Ann Patchett’s latest book, even though it’s popular

January 20, 2014 by Reader's Connection

This Is the Story of a Happy MarriageIs it possible to have a mother who’s too beautiful? If you’ve never given that question a moment’s thought, don’t worry. Ann Patchett has the answer: Absolutely.

My mother, for her part, was overly beautiful, and if you don’t think excessive beauty is a problem, you should try living with it for a while. The bag boys at the grocery store tried to kiss her at the car. She couldn’t have her phone number printed on her checks. People came to our table in restaurants to comment on her beauty; people let her go to the front of the line at the bank. Along with her looks came an overly sensitive nature that made people want to both protect her and run away with her. She did very little to try to put out the many fires that were started in her wake. When I first read The Iliad in high school I had a better understanding of my life: my mother was Helen of Troy.

That’s from the title essay in Patchett’s 2013 collection This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. She chronicles the many divorces in her family history. The story of her current marriage, the way in which her husband convinced her to marry him, reads like a surprising bend-in-the-road from one of her novels.

There are currently 38 requests on this book. I usually try to recommend less celebrated titles, but I can’t help myself; and even if I don’t read all the essays before I have to return my copy to the request queue, I know I’ll be back.

The book I had thought of featuring on Martin Luther King Day didn’t work out. In lieu of that I’ll close with some words from Patchett’s essay “Tennessee.”

Nashville is not a city that can take any pride in its urban planning. Lovely old homes are knocked down, appalling condominiums spring up in their stead, traffic multiplies geometrically, mom-and-pop operations issue a mouselike cry trying to hold back the big-box chains, and then are devoured by those chains in a single bite.

But for every way this city has changed for the worse, there is some other way it has changed for the better. When I was a little girl, the Klan marched down at the square on Music Row on Sunday afternoons. Men in white sheets and white hoods waved at your car with one hand while they held back enormous German shepherds with the other. My sister and I pushed down the buttons of our door locks and sank low in the backseat. Those men are gone now, or at least they aren’t out walking the streets in full regalia. If growth and modernization means getting rid of the Klan while bad condos spread like lichen over tree trunks, well then, let’s hear it for modernity.

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