This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (Harper) and Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother by Lauren Slater (Beacon Press)
These two writers, both born in 1963 and scarred by troubled childhoods, grew up to be women who use words to understand themselves and the world. Both also became “literary” writers who take commercial assignments from magazines, for pay. And now both have collected those pieces into freeform memoirs that are being released at virtually the same time. Both books focus closely on family, work and what it means to love. And both are deeply, captivatingly good.
The writers’ perspectives, however, are radically different. Even when her heart is breaking—for instance, as she describes the decline and death of her beloved grandmother—Patchett radiates pleasure in life and passionate engagement with the world. Slater, who battles mental illness and describes herself as “brooding and acerbic and self-consumed,” inhabits a darker place. Her writing is often breathtaking (“I was still stuck in the sliver-stone of my moon and marriage”), but you wouldn’t want to be her. Remarkably, both women find their way to happiness.
Compilations like these inevitably lack the driving narrative of a book intended as a full-length memoir, but that’s also their appeal. Short, very rich chapters invite slow savoring. They form, as Patchett says of the short story, “a handful of glorious pages that take you someplace you never knew you wanted to go.” —Carol Mithers
Click to buy This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Click to buy Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother