Shucks Mahoney’s #CBRV Review #45: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

9781408842393I think the publisher is trying to flog this as Patchett’s memoir, which it ain’t. It’s a collection of her non-fiction, stuff she cheerfully points out in the intro was mostly written to pay the rent while she worked on her novels. Which fits in to my current thirst for essays very well. I have read some of Patchett’s fiction, and loved it, but the book of hers that walloped me was Truth & Beauty. The story of her friendship with author Lucy Grealy, I read it in my early twenties and had never encountered such a deep examination of female friendship. It’s still a personal touchstone for me, one of those books that reached me just when I needed it.

She touches on the legacy of that book twice in this collection, in two works that confront the attempted banning of Truth & Beauty when it was assigned as college reading. Her tone is a little shrill when dealing with it, but then, if someone dismissed my work as Satan-loving pornography, I’d be shoving a pitchfork in their nethers, not demonstrating nearly as much good grace.

There is a lot of biography in here: her parent’s miserable marriage, her own joyful one – despite the title, this is not a smug couple fest, it’s genuine and astonished, her writing on writing, and her dog, Rose. I will ‘fess up: I skipped the chapter about her bookstore, not because I don’t trust her opinion, I just cannot deal with any kind of commentary on the publishing/bookselling industry’s future anymore. I have reached my absolute limit and get slightly ill even thinking about it.

The rest of this collection I hoovered up, with tremendous joy. She is self-effacing about this work in her introduction, but there’s no need: it’s a first rate set of writing.

Jack CBR5 – The Magician’s Assistant, Ann Patchett

Much has been written exploring the theme that you can’t ever know another person completely. Whether it be a result of secrets, misunderstanding, intentional subterfuge,  everyone keeps something back, some part of themselves. Often times, when people die, the parts of themselves we don’t know come crashing down around us. This too, is pretty well-mined territory in terms of literary themes.

Read the rest here.

Lauri’s #CBR5 Review #3: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I founImaged this book for a $1 at last year’s library book sale and it has sat in on my “to-be-read” list ever since. In the meantime, I read last year’s captivating State of Wonder, by the author and finally last month it was time to taste another of Patchett’s unique flavor of magical realism.

Bel Canto is set in an unnamed South American country and begins the night of a Japanese businessman’s birthday bash at the Vice-Presidential mansion. The star of the night is Roxanne Coss, a famous American opera singer with whom Mr. Hosokawa, the businessman being wooed by the government of said country, is well, a bit obsessed. When revolutionaries storm the mansion and take the crowd hostage, the story turns into a tragicomic story of love found in the oddest of places.

Like State of Wonder, the novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief. The characters, from the youngest, lowliest guerrilla fighter to the vice-president, to an international array of businessmen, to the generals who have gotten themselves and their people into this mess, without an exception they are captivated by the American singer. But what captivated me, more, was the way the novel unexpectedly turned into a love story between the Japanese polyglot interpreter and a smart but quiet female guerrilla.

Patchett has a way of humanizing every character, giving them a detailed and fleshed-out history in just a page or two. We sympathize and empathize with all of the characters caught in an obvious no-win situation. Like the novels players, I wished that the book continued on and on as they loved and learned from each other. And though little attention is actually given in the novel to flesh out the desperation of the terrorists, that they would commit such acts as kidnapping, we know that in the end the government will always win.

Now to that ending. Without spoiling, I will say that there is an epilogue that feels tacked on and completely out of place with the rest of the novel. Unfortunately, once read you know it is there. I would like, however, to think of the novel ending before this. Even before the last few pages in the final chapter. That these characters still live in that limbo, dream-state where music, sport, learning and love reign free.

Arya of Winterfell’s #CBR5 Review #2: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

BelCantoIn case I’m developing any kind of readership, I’ll follow-up on my last review of Lolita – we hosted our book club this week and the conversations that came about were great.  Notable were the discussions about paedophilia through the ages, responsibilities of parenthood, and the mastery of Nabokov’s prose.  With the evidence that it was the latest I’ve been out at a weeknight book club, I certainly recommend this as a great book club selection.

Our book club chose Bel Canto by Ann Patchett for our next read, moving from “the only convincing love story of our century” to “the most romantic novel in years”.  Recognizing also the move forward from 1955 to 2001 and down the ranks of the ‘must read’ cannon,  I adjusted my expectations accordingly.  No need – I was wonderfully surprised by the beauty, skill, and poetry of Patchett.  Bel Canto evidenced the kind of writing that left me in want of multiple bookmarks to mark passages to re-read and, later, to copy out: “It had occurred to him in his life that he had the soul of a machine and was only capable of motion when someone else turned the key.”  And: “It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience…  There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.”  Yes, emphatically yes, her other titles are now on my radar.


Aunt Ada Doom’s #CBR5 Review #2: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett



Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is a triumph of atmospheric prose, but a big splat as far as consistent characterization and plot. An unsympathetic protagonist and cheap plot choices toward the end ruined my enjoyment of what could easily have been an immersive, well-written winner.