Patchett's essay collection falls short

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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(AP) - "This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage" (Harper), by Ann Patchett

In the introduction of her new collection of essays, "This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," Ann Patchett declares herself a writer of fiction novels. She explains that writing nonfiction essays for magazines ranging from Seventeen to Gourmet to The New York Times Magazine served as a necessary evil intended to pay her bills. She said "yes" to everything, "no" to nothing, and would write the required number of words on absolutely anything.

So why, then, did Patchett pick 22 of her magazine pieces and put them in a book? It's like a long-distance runner who decides to embrace sprinting. A writer may be a writer, but when one is an award-winning, best-selling author, the choice is more than a bit bewildering.

Patchett does offer credible bits of wisdom for aspiring writers: don't go into debt for a master's degree or write your book in chronological order. She also provides reflections on her parents' divorce and her love of dogs _ all interesting slice-of-life pieces. But there's not much here for readers to sink their teeth into.

The book's title essay is, by far, the book's strongest, as Patchett reveals herself, her fears and expectations about life and love and her unwillingness to fail at marriage twice.

"Divorce is the history lesson, that thing that must be remembered in order not to be repeated. Divorce is the rock upon which this church is built," she writes, explaining her current, successful relationship.

Patchett says her breakout novel, "Bel Canto," enabled her to buy a house in 2001. It provided her with the freedom to quit her day job, but she loved it and felt bad leaving magazine writing behind. Even the most die-hard Patchett fans will reassure her: that's just fine.



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