That said, Patchett has plenty of love to spread around, including for her father. After he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, she and her sister commute to L.A. for the duration of his illness. The relief she feels when he dies is hard-earned, even as friends look askance at her lack of grieving. She puts it this way: “What if you’ve thrown a dinner party. And at 11:00 your guests finally get up to leave. The dishes are still on the table, the pans are in the sink, you have to go to work in the morning, but the guests just keep standing in the open door saying good night. They tell you another story, praise your cooking, go back to look for their gloves. They do this for three years.”
Other essays are cast in a more lighthearted vein. Patchett has a talent for friendship and celebrates many of those friends here. She writes with pure love for her mother, and with humor and some good-natured exasperation at Karl, who is such a great character he warrants a book of his own. Patchett’s account of his feigned offer to buy a woman’s newly adopted baby when she expresses unwarranted doubts is priceless.
She also addresses how owning a bookstore has enriched her life: “I once believed that nothing could surpass winning a big literary award, but I was mistaken. The thing that’s been so much better has been to create jobs in my community. … Even the introverted readers, the silent writers, want a place where they feel welcomed and understood. … That’s how I discovered that my truest destiny was a thing I never saw coming.”
In the title essay, “These Precious Days,” Patchett charts her acquaintance with Tom Hanks and what becomes an intimate friendship with his assistant, Sooki. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Sooki moves to Nashville, where, with Karl’s help, she receives treatment just as the coronavirus pandemic hits. What begins as a routine story of illness becomes an exploration of families and a central character who refuses to be characterized.
The days that Patchett refers to are precious indeed, but her writing is anything but. She describes deftly, with a line or a look, and I considered the absence of paragraphs freighted with adjectives to be a mercy. I don’t care about the hue of the sky or the shade of the couch. That’s not writing; it’s decorating. Or hiding. Patchett’s heart, smarts and 40 years of craft create an economy that delivers her perfectly understated stories emotionally whole. Her writing style is most gloriously her own.