AAt 57, novelist Ann Patchett is already preparing for death. She is not terminally ill and her decision is not as morbid as it first appears. She now intends to travel light, emptying her Nashville home of the residues of adulthood: the boxes of clothes and dishes and jewelry she has accumulated over five decades of life, things she now believes to be the case. ‘preventing “thinking”. what was to come and the beauty that was here now â.
Call it a pandemic house storage room, if you will, because she first came up with the idea of ââtidying up her drawers and closets after a friend’s father died last year. It took Patchett’s friend all summer to tidy up her father’s house for a real estate sale: a man living alone had left too many things. Patchett thought about the boxes in her own basement, all the gifts and possessions she had forgotten over the years. âI wonder if we could just pretend to move,â she asked her husband, âI could have said, ‘I wonder if we could just pretend to die?’ “
Dive deeper into the essays of These Precious Days and you’ll discover that death is more than a sham. A typical Patchett play is a eulogy, sufficiently warm and affectionate, respectful to those who have died or are about to die. There’s her cop father, who could do a hundred pull-ups at age 70, but succumbed to Parkinson’s disease in less than two years. There’s her nursing mom, who looked so young that people thought she was Patchett’s sister (and towards the end, Patchett would insist she was). There’s Tom Hanks’ late assistant Sooki Raphael, protagonist of the title essay which went viral a few months ago when it was posted by Harper’s, who had gone to Nashville for her chemotherapy and ended up staying with Patchett during the lockdown.
Whenever Patchett starts a new novel, she says she is overwhelmed with the fear of dying before she finishes the book. But it is in her non-fiction that she has more visibly reckoned with the loss, be it Truth and Beauty, her memories of her friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy, or the pieces from her collection of essays from 2013. , This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, taking care of your grandmother. Why talk about the dead? For Patchett, it is a tool for living, a salutary reminder of this “beauty that was there now”. You can rarely guess a conflict or ambivalence in his sentences, no matter what the subject; instead, they convey a well-adjusted curiosity, mostly about friends and family. What Patchett lacks in obsession and poetic depth, she makes up for with her storytelling energy. In the best of these essays – Flight Plan, about her husband’s passion for flying planes, and How to Practice, the one about cleaning her closets – uncomfortable truths are cloaked in a disarming spirit. Of her husband, she says at one point that he is “honest about everything – which should not be confused with being thoughtful about everything”.
Another recurring theme is the story of becoming a writer. Patchett’s father read the first drafts of his novels, gave him notes, carefully kept his publicity materials and his reviews. But long after it was published, he still believed writing was his hobby, not his job: âHaving someone who believed in my failure more than in my success kept me alert. Patchett has some great tips for young writers on attitude (‘giving up on approval’), writing, and editing (‘if you try to do both things at the same time nothing will work out. fact â), on the publication of a book (â never hesitate to rewrite the cover or ask to see the layouts of the advertisements â), and even on the distribution and sale of the printed book, since it is a notoriously co-owner of an independent bookstore in Nashville. When she was 30, an author told her that to become “a real writer” you had to have children. “I told him I had no children,” Patchett writes. âWhat I didn’t tell him was that I would never have children, and that I had known it for a very long time. representing the darkness and depth of his work â. I wondered about the remark while reading Patchett’s own essays. Have the decisions on which to keep and which to set aside been given sufficient thought? There are the inevitable repetitions, as with any body of articles originally written for newspapers and magazines; but sometimes the padding hides the pearls. More careful selection, for example, could have left Flight Plan single-handedly summarizing Patchett’s relationship with her husband, and omitted the other two essays on their relationship.
There are a lot of scary moments. By buying a stove for a homeless man, Patchett’s friend is apparently sweeping “the walls of oppression”. She can’t help but talk about her acquaintances on the page – a “bombshell best friend” here, a “force of nature, life force” there. And does Patchett honestly expect us to believe that Snoopy, the dog from the Peanuts comic book, was his? alone a model as a writer? Yet I found myself ignoring the missteps, the sweet detours, because they proceed from the same impulse that allows the most engaging passages: the willingness to let the heart “remain open to everyone, everyone, everything. the weather “.