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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Discovering a Small Gem

This summer during my book store visits, a book caught my eye (as often happens) because I saw the name Ann Patchett on the cover. I had been on sort of an Ann Patchett kick. Earlier in the summer, I had happily soaked up every word of This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, her recently published book of essays. Loving her straightforward, conversational style, I read Run, one of her older books (1977) that I had missed. I loved it and have to recommend all her books with State of Wonder (or Bel Canto?) being my favorite. Needless to say, I am a big fan of Ann Patchett (who, I might add, is married to a wonderful man from my hometown, Meridian). So, when I spotted Ann Patchett's name on the cover of a book at Book People in Austin, I snatched it up. The All of It was a wonderful surprise. Really a novella, this gem of a book shares a whole life in the most concise way.  Beside her husband's deathbed, a Irish parishioner shares her story with her priest.  The tale is shared from the priest's point of view and we see him as a flawed, conflicted man.  Likewise, the reader is able to empathize with the woman's sad story of suffering and redemption. I won't say more, but it's a book that you do not want to put down until you read "the all of it." 

The author, Jeanneatte Haien, published this book, her first, in her mid-60s, in 1986. She was a pianist and a music teacher for her entire career. This book won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction in 1987, but apparently was not widely read and quietly went out of print.  Many years later, on vacation Ann Patchett just happened to visit a very tiny used bookstore with a friend in the summer of 2010. They were walking out empty handed when her friend went bonkers over a battered paperback she found in a box of books just by the door. The book was The All of It.  Her friend urged her to read it. Ann Patchett said, "I have a habit of listening to my friends," and even though the book was so mildewed that it made her sneeze, she was immediately enthralled.  In the new introduction, Patchett said, "One of the many things that makes The All of It so remarkable…is its calculated construction…I had the sensation of not wanting to put the book down for fear of disrupting her narrative."

Patchett was so excited about the book that she approached the publishers to reprint this gem and offered to write an introduction. This is the book I found, re-published in 2011, in Book People in Austin this summer.  So, like Ann Patchett, trust me on this one. Read The All of It