"On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded...the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him... Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus...let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she"
Patchett, to state the obvious, is a good storyteller, and that minor bombshell about the 11-year courtship leading up to her eventual second marriage is dramatically placed to rivet a reader's attention. Beyond entertainment value, however, that title essay is a spirited contribution to the larger story of romantic relationships that aren't, well, "romantic" in the swooning ways we're used to reading about or seeing in movies. Patchett's down-to-earthness also sets the tone for her essays on the easily sentimentalized subject of caregiving: She writes here about tending to her beloved dog, an elderly nun friend and her 90-something-year-old grandmother. That particular essay, called "Love Sustained," is a must-read for anyone in the draining role of caregiver. Patchett wryly says that "I had planned to live far away from my family and miss them terribly. I had every intention of feeling simply awful that I wasn't with my grandmother in her years of decline." But fate thwarts Patchett's escape plans. She winds up intimately nursing her grandmother — scrubbing her in the shower, clipping her toenails and, as Patchett says, watching helpless as "every ability and pleasure my grandmother had would be taken from her, one by one by one."