If you were to ask me, “How can you love this world?” as I often ask myself, the answer would be, “Because Ann Patchett writes novels.” Sometimes it would be, “Because Alice Munro writes short stories.” And sometimes, it’s more specific, the name of a book I have just read, and how I stalled at the end — maybe with only seven pages to go — and decided that I needed to wash dishes, or do laundry, or take the dogs for a walk. But before any of that, I need to be still, with this book’s binding in my hands, in a strange kind of desperate prayer. Don’t end! and it must end! pressing through me with a languid energy like the slowing of a long train.
This morning, I read in the front room, surrounded by dogs. They follow me everywhere. No matter who is home. No matter what is happening. The dogs follow me, unless Mary is cooking, and then they don’t give a fuck about me. I am the favorite unless there is food. I want to tell them about the book I’m reading, but instead I rest it against my chest and look at the other books in the bookshelf. I’m searching for The Magician’s Assistant, the first Patchett book I read. When Mary and I began dating, I’d lent her my copy. She returned it, the front cover torn and dogeared, and said she wasn’t interested in Nebraska. It was like a blow. To return a book I’d lent in such a condition and to have refused to finish reading it.
I should have included that story in my wedding vows: I love you enough to overlook your shabby treatment of books in general and Ann Patchett in particular. Love doesn’t get bigger than that.
The dogs follow me to the bathroom, where I fill the tub with scalding water. The young woman in Commonwealth has just helped a famous drunk author to his hotel room. She could lose her job for this. For taking his money at the hotel bar and then helping him up to his room. But she tucks him into bed with tenderness. In Ann Patchett’s novels, the human condition is so sad that the only recourse is optimism. What better option than kindness?
I finish this chapter, touched again, by the way she writes about men and women. How failure is the middle of the story rather than the end. The end is something else, always. Something more.
What did you get out of this story? Everything. It was filled with everything. And I have only read the first third. The rest needs to last. Please last.
As I type, one of the dogs has her head rested on my thigh, and then on my arm. If you keep typing, how will you love me? What could possibly be more important than this?
I do pet her.
And I resist reading another chapter.
Make it last.
Stretch the beauty out as long as possible. Make the beauty last. Let it go on tomorrow as well. The story between us. Still unfolding.