(The above photo by Melissa Ann Pinney, from an article in Southern Living.)
Dear Ann, (can I call you Ann and not Ann Patchett? We’re both Southern, let’s just do it!)
You are the lucky recipient of my first fan letter posted on my blog. I have written other fan letters way, WAY back in the day, before the world wide web was invented (to local musician David Garza and to Karate Kid star, Ralph Macchio). I am a woman now; I don’t need to send fan letters based on my teenaged hormones or languid fantasies about being the future Ms. Karate Kid. I can send a fan letter now because I am in awe of your talent, your range, and your stories.
I first “met” you as an author when my book club selected Bel Canto in January 2002. I was skeptical at first when I read the back cover. Latin American crisis and hostage situations are not my go-to’s for fiction. But, I was a good book club member (until I quit because everyone else had a husband and a baby and a breast pump and I was so desperately single that no book in the world could relieve my jealousy) and read it– in two days, while in Law School. In case you didn’t know, law school students are not exactly known for having lots of free time to pour over great contemporary fiction.
I loved Bel Canto and then, frankly, I forgot all about you. That law school gig flourished into an actual law practice and eventually I quit quitting things because I was single and started quitting things because I was married and had two children.
This year, I decided to read 50 books. The first: The Magician’s Assistant. A dear friend who’s brilliant and artistic and perfect claims this is her favorite book. Again, I devoured it in about 2 days. And again, in case it hasn’t leaked to the world, people (mothers) with two young children are not known for having vast swaths of free time in which to read fiction. I loved the book and still think of the characters all the time. I wonder where you came up with the name Parsifal and I dream of seeing a house in Los Angeles that you described. (My husband’s from LA so it could happen.)
Here’s the true fan letter part:
I love your imagination and your writing. I also hate you for showing me how good a writer can be, because it’s kind of clear you don’t just dick around on a computer a few minutes of everyday (like I do). When I read your fiction, I wonder if somewhere buried way deep inside of me, maybe in my heels, there is at least 1 story I could tell that is mostly from my imagintion. I am not so sure. I don’t think everyone is out there walking around on a great book if only they had the time and the resources to sit down and write it.
I loved State of Wonder, which I also read recently. I think about those mushrooms a lot and those scenes on the river. I also think about how it might feel to get pregnant in about 30 years, and then I hyperventilate and have to find a paper bag. So thanks for giving me those daydreams!
The real kicker, and what landed you in volume 1 of my Fan Letter Friday is your memoir, Truth and Beauty. I read the first two pages and then called my friend Joyce (of the Magician’s Assistant ardor) and told her that I loved it so much I will never write again. It’s too good, too perfect, and your opening line was exquisite. “Jesus, she can do both fiction and non-fiction. I hate her like I hate those toned bitches in the Athleta catalog.”
Joyce talked me off the ledge, and I kept reading.
I think Truth and Beauty is one of my all-time favorite books. I haven’t read that many books about friendship that gripped me like yours did. Years ago (the last year I tried to read 50 books in one year (1999)), my 50th book was Lucy Greely’s Autobiography of a Face which I was literally finishing up right as my ride to a New Year’s Eve party was honking for me to come down. “Wait, I have to finish this book by midnight. I have 2 more pages. I am coming!” So when I realized that your book was about your friendship with Lucy, I about peed my pants on the red line train (and judging from the smell on the red line, that’s pretty much just what you do on that train). My memory of Lucy Grealy’s book is that I had wanted to like it more. I probably wanted more angst and sentimentality, but now, of course, I have to re-read it. I know it’s around here somewhere.
But back to you. I was really astounded to read how codependent you were with Lucy. And in the middle of all of those storms, you created beautiful art and that tells me that I don’t have to be perfect to have the privilege of making art. (Does a big-time novelist like you consider blogging art? Not sure if I do. Let me know what you think.)
I loved that you worked at TGI Friday’s. I love that you are southern. I love that when I finally saw your picture on the back flap of State of Wonder I was stunned at how open, friendly and approachable your face looked. You looked like someone I would be friends with. You didn’t look all weird and artsy or inscrutable or reclusive. (I hereby vow to comment on the appearances of all the males I send fan letters to as well.) Once a boyfriend called me a “plain Jane,” and many years later I took it as a compliment. It’s sort of what I am getting at here, but more I think that you like my friends look, which makes me feel safe and happy admiring you and your work.
You may never read this, unless you Google yourself and stumble upon Outlaw Mama. You no doubt have lots of fans, but one more is always nice.