The Art of the Short Story

 Author Ann Patchett got her start writing for magazines. She did whatever it took to publish a story. She stayed within word limits, let editors edit out what she thought was her best work, traveled when she didn’t feel well, and worked feverishly to meet deadlines. This meant that she published a lot of articles over the years. She threw her stories into a box which she kept in her basement, intending to go through it someday, but knowing she never would. And then her friend offered to do it for her and came back with the stories she thought were her best writing and which would also hold together as a story of Ann’s life. Ann was intrigued and they began to organize a collection of short stories which were eventually published as “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.” The book has some of what you would expect – tales of her family life, her parent’s sudden divorce, and moving from California to the Nashville area, her determination to be a writer, her first, awful marriage and how she met, Karl, the husband of her happy marriage, but it also takes unexpected paths. She writes about travel – staying at a high-priced hotel for a few days and never leaving the premises or driving an RV in the western states trying to discover the draw of the RV life. These stories are funny and revealing. Some really tug on the heartstrings though, these are the stories about her dog, Rose, and her beloved grandmother. Ann and Karl come across the dog of their dreams in a park. She is a little ball of fur, white with one ginger ear. They want her and the girl in the care is trying to give her away. They leave to discuss it, but when they come back, the car is gone and so is the dog. It takes some time, but they eventually find her in the hands of a little girl. Their dog has been given to another family. Ann talks the mom into giving the dog to them, despite the little girl’s heartbreak. Rose is always faithful and loving. Then comes the essay about Rose’s last days, beautiful, even in their sadness. Ann’s story of her last days with her grandmother is, in some ways, like the story of Rose. The two of them sticking together as life begins to unravel, knowing this will end, but not wanting it to, and loving, loving even when her grandmother can no longer remember. These stories make you cry, but also resonate because they are stories that we understand. Life is lived and some people can write about it for the rest of us. Change the name of the dog or the grandmother and it is our story too. Ann has a new book of essays coming out this fall titled, “These Precious Days.” She is sure to convince us that this is true.