I had the devil’s own time getting into this collection of essays, but after some false starts I loved it. The title annoys me because it almost guarantees a missed opportunity for a broader (read: male) audience. Maybe I’m surrounded by a bunch of male Luddites but, honestly, raise your hand if you are – or know – a man who would gravitate to this title. Exactly. But I promise there is something for everyone reading this review.
Patchett is best known as a novelist (about which, more later), but she has long been an essayist. Her pieces have appeared in the NY Times, Harpers, Vogue, Atlantic, The Bark, and more. She has collected some of her best work here and arranged it somewhat chronologically. It is almost a memoir. The essay from which the book takes its title is near the end, and by that time we like her and want her happy. It is no spoiler to reveal there is a happy ending. But before we get there Patchett recounts a childhood scarred by divorce, school years marked by a near inability to read and write, good and bad relationships and friendships, hard work, a few lucky breaks, and ultimately a life of success and satisfaction. As in life, it’s the journey in which the interest lies – not the destination.
In the Introduction Patchett declares her book is “full of example and advice.” She really delivers in “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life.” One of her great gifts is an ability to link unlikely elements to create a clear and immediate focus. This essay, which is the longest in the book, is the best I have ever read about writing. It is also a primer for life. She is practical, honest, funny and not especially patient or encouraging because writing, like life, is to be taken seriously and attacked with discipline. In “On Responsibility” she tenderly connects the trials and pleasures of caring for her aged, confused grandmother, and her dog, Rose. In between, she tries out for the LAPD, edits The Best American Short Stories 2006 poolside at the Bel Air Hotel, and delivers a kick-ass speech at Clemson College. And more, much more.
If you haven’t read Ann Patchett’s novels, you should. Her biggest hit was Bel Canto, the tale of an opera singer amongst a group of hostages in a South American country. Personally, I liked State of Wonder better. Run was my favorite, but the The Patron Saint of Liars (now that is a great title) is close behind.
If you are new to her, I suggest you start with this book of essays. Knowing her will deepen your reading experience. She talks to her dog, loves her Granny, opens an independent bookstore, and goes on the Winnebago vacation from hell. In the best tradition of good writers, she drove me to look up “sestinas” and “villanelles” as well as what sounds like the best and most complicated apple pie recipe on the planet. Read this book. You’ll love it.