June 11, 2012
truth & beauty.
This non-fiction book about the author and her deeply intense friendship with a woman named Lucy Grealy was...interesting. When the book begins, you feel that Lucy is a shining star - popular, loved, spunky, and admirable because of her life-long battle with jaw cancer and frequent reconstructive surgeries on her face. Ann Patchett was the college peer who admired her from afar then suddenly became best friends with her when they decide to live together while in the same writing program in Iowa.
As the book continues though, Lucy becomes a different character. We realize that Lucy was needy and lonely. She struggled with self-image problems, she had a need for Ann to always tell her that she was her best and favorite friend, she spent all her money on unimportant things and then Ann would cover the costs of her crises. In looking back, Ann doesn't complain about what Lucy needed from her, or what a mess Lucy's life would become. Rather, she points out Lucy's many flaws and insecurities but only really sheds emotion for the positive memories - Lucy's dancing, her ability to make friends frequently and quickly, her talent as a writer.
As a result, the reader gets tugged in two ways. On the one hand, you can't help but appreciate such a strong friendship between two females. They truly loved each other, were always in touch, and had a deep connection for several decades before Lucy finally died from an accidental drug overdose. On the other hand, it feels awkward to know how much Ann Patchett really did for Lucy and how she lays it all out in her book, as if to get it off her shoulders and tell the world "Look at all the things I did for her."
It's a short and easy read and it was refreshing to read a simple piece of non-fiction about friendship - something that fails to remain a main theme for most books these days. Patchett's writing is accessible and straight-forward so that you focus on the story itself rather than the writing.
Before Lucy passed away, she wrote a book called An Autobiography of a Face, in which she reflects on her life-long struggle with being ashamed of her disfigured face and undergoing countless surgeries to try and make it "normal." I do wish that I had read Grealy's book first, then Truth & Beauty. Also, Grealy's sister wrote an article after Truth & Beauty came out that shed an unkind light on the book and on Patchett's reaction to/relationship with Lucy's death. It's an interesting read for when you have finished Patchett's book that may or may not affect your opinions on her.
A quote I enjoyed:
"I told her constantly that those were things she should in no way be ashamed of, that shame should be reserved for the things we choose to do, not the circumstances that life puts on us." pg. 138