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Ann Patchett’s “Those Precious Days” Focuses on Relationships: NPR


Those precious days: Trials, by Ann Patchett

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Harpist

Ann Patchett’s “Those Precious Days” Focuses on Relationships: NPR

Those precious days: Trials, by Ann Patchett

Harpist

“You can’t be a real writer if you don’t have kids,” a famous author told Ann Patchett as they both spoke at a book festival. Patchett, whose novels include Bel Canto and Commonwealth, never wanted children.

“Emily Dickinson,” she protested. “Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Eudora Welty, Henry James.” But the writer insisted that without having children it is not possible to know what it means to love.

The heartfelt essays gathered in Those precious days are refutations, in various forms, of this cruel and limiting idea. The essays, while nominally dealing with something else, deal with the weight and heartbreak of relationships: with her father and two stepfathers, her best friend, her husband, and, improbably, her assistant. actor Tom Hanks, a woman named Sooki with whom Patchett develops a deep bond. “Over and over again,” she wrote in the book’s introductory essay, “I wondered what mattered most about this precarious and precious life.”

In an essay, “Flight Plan,” Patchett describes her fears regarding her husband’s flying hobby: “[I]In the end, it probably won’t be the tip of the nose or the door. It will be something infinitely more mundane. It will be life and time, the things that come for all of us. Which doesn’t mean that I will be able to stop myself from saying, Attention, call me, come back right away. “

In “These Precious Days”, the essay after which the collection is named, Patchett recalls organizing an event with Hanks, but being smitten by his assistant, Sooki. “She hardly said anything and yet my eye kept moving towards her, the way one eye moves towards the iridescent flash on a hummingbird’s throat. I thought how hard a person is. should be extraordinarily famous to have someone like that working as an assistant. ” They start a correspondence.

When Sooki is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Patchett offers to take her to her husband’s hospital in Tennessee, and stay with them while she is treated. Soon after Sooki arrives, the pandemic makes travel impossible and they begin a strange, harmonious, and lonely coexistence, isolated from the rest of the world. “So many other people would have done anything to be with her: her mother and her husband, her daughter and her son and her grandchildren, her sisters and all her friends …These precious days that I will spend with you, I sang in my head. Be careful, I told myself. Pay attention every minute. ”The result is a beautiful tribute of almost 70 pages to her friend, who died in April 2021.

Some essays are weaker than others: an essay on Snoopy has timid charms but seems mostly unresolved. Parts of the book sound like excuses for bragging about friends (although of all the forms of self-indulgence a writer has, this could be some of the easiest to forgive). But at their best, they’re a catalog of all the unexpected ways love can have, if you’re imaginative and brave enough to try it out, even knowing that love and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin. same room. “Death always thinks of us in the end,” writes Patchett. “The trick is to find the joy in the interim and make good use of the days we have.”

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