Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I Wanted to Like Her. But I Couldn't.

Ann Patchett. The name itself was enough to get me in the audience. In fact, I had talked about her enough that Chef was the one who actually suggested we go when he saw she was speaking in LA. From the same series that brought us the Tina Fey-Steve Martin interview came the Ann Patchett- Maile Meloy conversation.

We went to this cool, old train station turned art gallery space and sat obediently in our folding chairs. I had brought my copy of Ann's latest book (purchased direct from the publisher at a book fair in CANADA!, by the way) in case I wanted to get it signed. I tweeted my excited. She was not only an author that I adored, but from NASHVILLE and could help bring a bit of longing to life. I braced myself for fun. She stepped onto the raised platform in a very Brentwood-housewife looking blue dress.

And from there on, I was utterly disappointed and entirely annoyed.

First of all, to call it a "conversation," as it was billed to be, would be doing it a disservice. It was primarily 90 minutes of Ann Patchett talking about herself and dropping names like they're hot. She told a few funny stories, but then preceded to drop her personal friendships with three prominent female writers, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, a famous opera singer and her numerous editorial connections into the whole thing. It was obnoxious.

She took credit for bankrupting Gourmet magazine because they bankrolled her elaborate trips for novel research with her just selling them an article. She said she didn’t do it because she couldn’t afford to pay for the trip, but because she didn’t like to make elaborate travel plans and they had a department to do that for her.

She mentioned having her first piece published in The Paris Review, but being confused because she hadn’t submitted to The Paris Review. She had submitted to Esquire, but they had passed it to The Paris Review without her knowing. How weird! (She said that with undeniable pride and I admit I’m envious, but also a little ticked).

She mentioned lots of things that mostly just made me angry. What she didn’t mention was that she has the luxury of writing because her husband, a doctor, takes care of little things like steady income and health insurance.

Mostly I was just irritated. I felt no humility or feeling of luck for her having won the genetic lottery. I mean, she’s white. She was born to parents who were pretty well off (mother is a nurse, stepfather is a doctor). Those two things helped her get into Sarah Lawrence College. And from there, the rest is history.

Of course, Ann Patchett’s talent is truly something to marvel at. As much as I’m now disappointed in having met her (and why I will probably never really want to meet Matt Damon or Peyton Manning), I still appreciate that she can sure write. I just now have to separate the author from the work to appreciate it. Which is really what I’m doing with Jonathan Franzen too.

Anyway, the whole night was sitting there wondering if I was the only one who thought she was utterly obnoxious and looking at the room full of aging yuppies. Many people in their mid to late 50s wearing gorgeously made, expensive clothes that they put together to look like shit. Bad, short women’s haircuts and men wearing “statement” glasses—big, bold, black rims and odd shapes. They were people ready to be mobilized into doing something for society, but instead of putting that to actual use, they rallied around the idea of the independent bookstore and the evils of Amazon and the Kindle. While I understood the message, I thought it was a little diluted for them to be nodding their heads vigorously to Patchett’s battle cries against mass booksellers while I literally watched some of them guzzle Starbucks coffee. (By the way, Patchett described her contributions to the bookstore she’s planning on opening in Nashville as the “flash and the cash”—also a little retching).

It was all in all too much. I couldn’t believe that I was the only one who wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid. It wasn’t until I left and Chef said “So, what did you think?” tentatively that I realized there was at least one other person who felt like I did.

“I think that I’m a little sad that my favorite author is an asshole,” I said.

“I’d call her a ‘Douche in a Blue Dress’,” Chef replied.

The floodgates then opened as we exchanged quotes from the evening that left us both with a bad taste in our mouths. And for the second time that evening I truly appreciated Chef.

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