Sometimes you just need to admit you are besotted with someone.
If you are sports fan, there are athletes you hold in high, high estimation. Writers are like this about other living writers. I'll just say it out loud: I am besotted with Ann Patchett.
I read Bel Canto, which I liked a lot. Then, I stumbled upon This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Every essay in that book is a gem: Patchett writes movingly and memorably about her parents' divorce, her great and fierce love of her grandmother, the initial challenges to her ultimately happy marriage to her second husband. There is not a weak sentence in the entire book.
Ann Patchett is one of those for me. But I never thought I'd actually meet her.
My book came out last fall. Because my oldest friend from childhood lives in Nashville, I wanted to read at Parnassus, coincidentally owned by Ann Patchett. I had visited her bookstore three years ago, when my friend's son was bar mitzvahed and I flew down to Nashville for the event. My friend is a writer, so she arranged for a bunch of us to go to Patchett's new store between her son's day time Kiddush and night time party. Patchett wasn't there, but I fell in love with the place and bought a dessert cookbook that gave me a lot of joy for a while.
I ended up writing about the visit to the bookstore and that wonderful book in my book.
My friend emailed me. "Parnassus has an event at exactly the same time yours is," she said. The event involved Alice Randall, author of TK and now a co-author with her daughter of Soul Food Love. Randall is a local celebrity in Nashville; she teaches at Vanderbilt and is the author of Wind Done Gone, the TK of Gone with the Wind. There was no contest; anyone who wanted to buy a cookbook was going to go to Randall's event. And that, I was sure, included Ann Patchett.
Then my father died. And the curtain lifted. His cousin, who had kidnapped a baby, reached out to me after the funeral. We traded emails.
A major publisher was interested. But then my cousin said he did not want to write a book.
I discovered the essays of Ann Patchett.
I started to think of her as Ann Patchet! Ann Patchett! Not Ann or Ms. Patchett or even Patchett. She introduced me to the fiction of Edith Pearlman. And in her book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, she wrote about the joys and struggles of being married, of getting divorced yourself, of loving your grandmother so much it hurt and growing up with divorced parents. In truth and Beauty, she wrote about the joys of friendship and the pain of losing it.
Hi, I'm Ann Patchett. There in front of me was a beautiful woman with a pixie haircut. She was wearing a dark crew neck sweater, with a shirt tucked neatly beneath it, and jeans. She was slim and gorgeous. She also looked very young. Ann Patchett doesn't have short hair! Roberta told me to come see you.
Roberta, Roberta, who is Roberta? Oh yes, we're on the food team together, I said!
I wrote something about my father for Roberta, Ann said. He died.
I'm sorry, I said.
Well, she said.
Let's run away together, Katherine had said.
Food team? Ann said.
Yes, on Facebook, we don't eat sugar, it's the Whole Life Challenge, what was I saying? I had no idea. I was somewhere else. This was like my wedding day and my sons' bar mitzvahs, it was happening and I knew it was happening, but I didn't know what was happening, I just knew everyone was happy it was happening and there was a crowd of people, watching it happening.
And Lucy Grealy and that whole business!
Did I really just say that?
I knew Roberta a little bit. She was a friend of my editor's and had come to one of my readings. WE shared recipes on Facebook. But I didn't know her well and certainly didn't have the nerve to ask her any favors. And I had no idea she was editing one of Ann Patchett's essays. She had posted that she was editing a series of essays on death and asked us to look at them. I had looked at one of them -- it was by an author I kind of knew and I meant to email her about thte say, but I hadn't finish fit, and as happens so many times when I read something on the internet, I forgot to follow up.
There was Ann Patchett! My eyes have seen the glory!
Do you know what it's like to have Ann Patchett's arm wrapped around your shoulders?
She introduced me to her mom. How pretty!