Finely curated, as expected for an essayist who lives and breathes structure ... McPhee flawlessly moves from gravity to levity ... Such pieces are tastes of his willingness to let the world around him just be and to marvel at mysteries of all variety ... One wishes John McPhee would write about everything, his words an introduction to all of life’s flavors.
... The Patch, is a miscellany of pieces that have not previously appeared in books ... No matter the subject, these pieces embody a surface ease and grace accomplished only through relentless polishing ... The 'quilt' [of vignettes composing the book] is made up of brief excerpted pieces from The New Yorker and Time, his first employer, and display McPhee’s boundless curiosity and ability to unwind complicated subjects. They also expose one of the book’s weaknesses — that many of those he profiles are dead. Cary Grant, Oscar Hammerstein, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Peter Sellers are included. The likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nicole Kidman are not ... What nonetheless keeps us reading is McPhee’s gift for the delicious turn of phrase ... You will also appreciate the McPhee wit ... The publisher calls this book 'a covert memoir,' on the book flap, but it’s merely a tease. Is there any hope for the real thing?
In The Patch, [McPhee] again shamelessly employs his go-to strategy: crafting sentences so energetic and structurally sound that he can introduce apparently unappealing subjects, even ones that look to be encased in a cruddy veneer of boringness, and persuade us to care about them. He’s been working this angle since the 1950s; it’s a good thing we’re finally onto him now ... McPhee finds surprising poetry in the material at hand, as in his list of found golf balls emblazoned with the names of mutual funds ... The Patch is just another chapter in an ongoing memoir of generous curiosity ... About the only essay in this collection that McPhee can’t elevate is an account of an N.C.A.A. lacrosse game pitting the University of Denver against Syracuse.
The Patch, John McPhee’s new book, could only have been written by a journalist with decades of experience and an archivist’s disposition ... Although there are many lovely passages in The Patch, a handful are frustratingly short. A single paragraph on Peter O’Toole, sun-scorched and battered after shooting 'Lawrence of Arabia,' is beautifully written — if only it weren’t so fleeting. But such is the nature of this project. McPhee, a journalistic pack rat, has shared the best of his archives, and the result is a valuable overview of a long, peripatetic career.
McPhee’s curiosity is legendary and evident throughout this volume ... Fans will recognize many of the subjects from the books McPhee has published — Bill Bradley, geology, Alaska, to name a few — but they don’t read as outtakes and are as fresh as when he first encountered them. Some context before each patch of the [metaphorical] quilt [of the book] would have been welcome, just a line or two detailing when and why he wrote it. But McPhee, famous for the unique ways he structures his creative process, has decided to present it as a quilt that can be enjoyed as individual squares or an entire blanket, and really, who are we to quibble with such a Master Seamstress?
[The Patch is] a work that gains its newness through structure alone ... While a more obsessive or academic reader of McPhee might readily place these snippets in the pieces from whence they came, the experience of having decades of details and observations and exacting description wash over you, the time or the context of the writing never exactly clear, is a fascinating one ... As a book, The Patch is by no means the story of a life from beginning to end — A Memoir — but it is maybe a more honest and effective way of stitching together the memories of a life, the structure in a way acknowledging that a neat beginning, middle and end is part of the artifice of writing.
In The Patch, [McPhee] has assembled a sparkling tessellation of nonfiction pieces that run from plump essays to squib-shorties ... The short pieces cohere in their suddenness, darting from topic to topic: here a vest-pocket profile of Cary Grant and his thing about autographs, there an explanation as to why granite is an indispensable ingredient in every Hershey’s chocolate bar. A crazy quilt, then ... The quilt is work on its way to becoming, material that will latterly have all the brio, dash and polish one could ask from an essay.
Like a patchwork quilt it has harmony, if not logic ... If you are new to John McPhee, The Patch is not the right place to begin ... If you are old with McPhee, as I am, The Patch is perfect pleasure ... McPhee’s tone might easily be called conversational, but it is like a conversation with the most interesting person you ever met, and with you the only listener ... This is craft raised to the level of art ... if you would like, for a while at least, to be soothed, and amused, and educated in the most enjoyable way, to be presented with a view of the world that feels both true and reassuring, then be glad that John McPhee is there to provide it. The Patch is a postcard from a gentler place.
The Patch is (McPhee's) thirty-third book overall. It takes in the whole arc of his long career, assembling recent essays and previously uncollected pieces dating back to the ’50s, and is McPhee’s second victory lap in a row, if we include his idiosyncratic memoir-as-writer’s-manual, Draft No. 4 (2017). It is dedicated to McPhee’s grandchildren—all ten of them, if I’ve counted correctly—and it contains 6.2 pieces per child ... in his own quiet, meticulous way, McPhee’s built a body of work that will stand.
Assembled curiously but with [McPhee's] trademark eye for detail ... Still, to put it in golf terms McPhee might appreciate, his long game was always much stronger than his short game. He isn’t built for Talk of the Town–style observational pieces about MENSA meetings or Peter Sellers’ knack for accents. He’s built for long-form pieces ... A sturdy collection of top-shelf McPhee, with a grab bag of curiosities for fans.
Provides a bountiful cornucopia of insightful essays that display the wide range of [McPhee's] interests and tastes ... characteristically detailed and observant ... McPhee delights in cracking open subjects, both ordinary and esoteric, and making them accessible to the layperson in works that testify to his virtuosity as one of the greatest living American essayists.