- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Fourth Estate; First Edition First Printing edition (2 Aug. 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 000719093X
- ISBN-13: 978-0007190935
- Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.4 x 3.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,175,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Truth and Beauty: A Friendship Hardcover – 2 Aug 2004
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'Expect miracles when you read Ann Patchett's fiction. Comparisons are tempting to the unabashed romanticism of Laurie Colwin, the eccentric characters of Anne Tyler, the enchantments of Alice Hoffman. But Patchett is unique; a generous, fearless and startlingly wise young writer.' New York Times Review of Books
About the Author
Ann Patchett is the author of four previous novels, Bel Canto which won the Orange Prize, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft and The Magician’s Assistant. She writes for the New York Times Magazine, Elle, GQ, The Paris Review and Vogue. She lives in Nashville,TN.
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Top Customer Reviews
I do think Ann Patchett writes well, but I really found this much less interesting to read than Lucy Grealy's book. I found their whole relationship strange. . . from the day Lucy jumps up to Ann and hugs her fiercely in Iowa (without really knowing eachother) to the very end.
At one point, Patchett states that Lucy says something like "I provided you with a way of feeling good about yourself". . .actually, I'm misquoting--I don't remember the exact quote and don't want to look it up-- but the point is the same. Patchett was shocked and upset. But, really, their friendship seemed so one-sided. I know some people do really thrive on being needed, but healthy people thrive on being needed and loved as well as loving and needing. Ann Patchett seemed to just love and need without caring that she wasn't loved and needed as much in return. It was a very weird, one-sided type of relationship.
Still, I'd recommend reading it if you read Grealy's book and liked it, and if you want to know more about her life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I had earlier read Grealy's memoir, Autobiography of a Face, which is about her diagnosis of jaw cancer at the age of nine, her horrifying and lengthy treatment with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery that removed much of her jaw, and of her experience growing up with a disfigured face. Though it was quite poetically written and the chemotherapy descriptions in particular were almost unreadably vivid, I had hoped for more of a sense of the author as a person, or more discussion of her experiences as an adult, or something-- it read to me as if large sections were missing or opaque.
When Patchett and Grealy meet in college, Grealy is famous on campus, for her talent, her charisma, and her tragic and dramatic life story-- much of her jaw is missing, she has undergone repeated unsuccessful surgeries to repair her face, and she suffers numerous health and living problems because she can't chew or swallow properly. Patchett is a bit of a nobody. But they end up becoming roommates, and bond instantly in the way that people do when they suddenly meet someone they can talk to about everything they always thought no one else could understand, and with whom the conversation flows. Besides that, they have chemistry. Though there are erotic elements in their relationship, at least in my view, what they mainly have is a friendship that's as lasting and passionate as a lifelong love-affair. In a sense, it is a lifelong love affair.
Oddly, reading the book convinced me of three things: that Patchett really did love Lucy and wrote the book out of love and grief after Lucy's death, that the book is honest to the best of Patchett's ability, and that though I have a lot of sympathy for Lucy Grealy, I don't actually find her likable. She comes across as needy, self-centered, a drama queen, and a bit of spoiled brat who never grows up. Granted, she had a lot to bear and reasons she was the way she was, but still. Patchett does her best to get across Lucy's personal charisma, but it's tough to fully portray a quality that's often solely in a person's aura and not in their words or deeds. Patchett herself is more in the background, but sees herself as the plodding ant to Lucy's charmingly feckless grasshopper.
But the relationship between the two of them comes across beautifully. Lucy loves to be taken care of, and Ann Patchett loves taking care; it's co-dependent, but it's also real love. This is a great character portrait, and a brilliant portrayal of a relationship that on one level makes no sense and on other levels seems inevitable and natural.
I was so curious about the background of the book that I looked it up, and found the swirl of intense and mixed feelings that so frequently surround memoirs: Lucy Grealy's sister is furious with Ann Patchett for writing a book that tells all about Lucy's less-than-stellar qualities, for priveleging her own grief above the family's, and for exposing the family to unwanted fame; readers here on Amazon note that Lucy was a bitch who brought everything on herself, or else accuse Patchett of not coming clean about the clearly lesbian nature of the relationship, of cashing in on a dead friend's memory for money, of being a doormat, of allowing Lucy to die (of a drug overdose) through her failure to apply tough love, of making Lucy look bad, of deliberately making Lucy look bad out of spite or jealousy, and of failing to give the proceeds to cancer research; and other readers defend the book at some length.
I wondered, when I read all that, if Ann Patchett hoped that readers would see Lucy as she saw Lucy-- infuriating, irresponsible, but impossibly charming-- and would love her too, and if she was saddened that a lot of them didn't. I wonder if she wishes she'd exposed more of her own flaws for balance, or softened Lucy's. Or if, when she was writing, she left nothing out because it never occurred to her any number of flaws could prevent anyone from loving Lucy.
The second time I met Lucy Grealy, I was strolling through a quaint town with another friend, with whom she had gone to grad school. Upon seeing Grealy, he called out to her and crossed the street to congratulate her on her book. Seeing him approach, Grealy crossed the street at an angle to avoid him, and when they later ended up at the same award gathering for writers, she turned to him and said, "YOU? They gave YOU the same award they gave ME?"
What I found amazing, then, as I read Ann Patchett's book, was that Patchett describes literally hundreds of incidents far more negative than the ones outlined above, faithfully revealing Grealy as the rude, weak, petulant, narcisstic, petty, disturbed, and yes, utterly ugly person that she was (although I would argue that her inner ugliness was far, far greater than her facial deformity) and yet, somehow makes Grealy if not sympathetic then certainly compelling. I have to re-read the book to see exactly how Patchett does it. I do know that she acknowledges the hard truths of Grealy's rather deficient character with wisdom and charity. Who among us could walk that tightrope of love and honesty? I couldn't, and I don't think many others could, either. In Patchett's sure hands, Grealey emerges as a character we actually care about. I cannot think of a better testament to Patchett's writing ability than that.
What I remember most when news of Grealy's death made the rounds of my acquaintances is that no one-not people who'd gone to the Writer's Workshop with her and Patchett in Iowa, not colleagues of hers at Sarah Lawrence, not the people I still kept in touch with who remembered Grealy at the party mentioned above or those who knew her through the award they shared with her-mourned her at all. If anything, people tried-not altogether successfully-to suppress tight little smiles. "Oh well," is what people said, not at all regretfully. It was a first for me, the first time I'd personally known someone to pass with such indifference or worse, and as much as I did not like Grealy myself, I was haunted by it. How sad, I thought, for one's death mean so little to so many. Patchett's book is a surprising vindication for Grealy. If someone so difficult can be so loved and so lovingly portrayed, it should give hope to us all.
The two women were not friends during their simultaneous matriculation at Sarah Lawrence, but Ann knew who Lucy was. Theirs is a co-dependent relationship, with Ann as the strong one, the sensible one, the substitute parent, the big sister. All of her relationships, at least as persented in this book, play second fiddle to the all consuming one with Lucy. Lucy is a friend because she needs lots of friends. Her family is mostly absent through most of her serious operations and various depressions. Reading this novel made me wonder where they were. You get to know them a little better from Lucy's book. In both memoirs they are conspicuously absent a great deal of the time.
Lucy is a selfish, stubborn, artistic, free spirited, waif-like presence in the lives of those she knows. Ann is constantly amazed at how many people know and adore Lucy, and how all these relationships are maintained with the primary players rarely meeting, until they rally together to support Lucy in her more dire times of need. The reader may find Lucy's manipulative nature annoying; Ann finds it endearing. Lucy calls, Ann answers. Lucy beckons, Ann comes running. Lucy needs money, Ann supplies it.
The writing itself is admirable, and really very honest. I have never known anyone who suffered so greatly through so many operations, yet I am glad to not have known Lucy. Knowing other people who are ill, or have suffered makes me realize how something was sorely lacking in Lucy's life. She tried to be spiritual through her poetry, but her personal life lacked real relationships that were not based only on the concern for her own personal needs and not those of others. She wanted to be a celebrity and she wanted to be beautiful. She seemed to be elated when her book is finally published, but she never seems thankful for that in Truth and Beauty. She wants celebrity and fame and fortune, but at what cost to her and to others? Maybe that is why she finally turns to heroin, to fill the empty space in her life where she cannot have a real friendship without wishing it was "love."
Lucy's sister Suellen (not her twin Sarah) wrote a scathing article about Ann and this work in The UK paper The Guardian when the book was published, and interestingly enough, she admits that reading Lucy's book was very painful because she obviously knows how her sister can offer one point of view that doesn't necessarily reveal the whole truth (particularly about her family and their role in Lucy's life). She calls the book "careless." However, isn't that the priority and right of an artist? I wonder if they (the Grealy clan) were angry at Lucy when she wrote Autobiography of a Face, although Suellen claims to have been happy for her. She claims Ann "hitched her star to Lucy's" for her own personal gain. However, Ann was already well on her way to her own personal success long before writing this book. Bel Canto was more successful commercially than anything Lucy ever wrote. I think Ann needed to write this book, to come to some peace about her car wreck of a relationship with Lucy Grealy. She wrote about friendship, while Lucy wrote about her own personal pain and elusive search for beauty. Very sad. Worth reading.
I cherished this book. For those of you who felt Ann presented herself as saintly, you should look a little deeper. She was struggling herself and owns some mistakes rather openly (i.e., her marriage) but chooses not to dwell on them. That would have perhaps satisfied more of the reader's desire to learn more about Ann, but not kept on track with the goal of the book.
Many of us have, in the course of one special relationship (or many, for that matter) given more or cared more than others thought we should. It can be difficult to explain why we do it. What may seem unique, or out-of-place to some, is that Ann doesn't seem to need to demonize Lucy in the telling. That some of the readers don't understand that may be a product of Lucy herself just as much as Ann's style of storytelling.
Lucy and I created a song and dance routine of our own during rush week (just a short time after her arrival in Iowa City and moving in as my neighbor). Ann hadn't yet arrived. If you knew Lucy, you would understand how she could inspire an almost 30-year-old stranger/sociology grad student to sing and dance with abandon on the sidewalk.
Lucy made me laugh. Ann touched my heart with kindness and the generosity of her spirit. This book inspired me to revisit my memories of many special relationships over the years. Thank you, Ann!
This book was beautifully written, and even though I know how it turns out [Grealy dies tragically, yet inevitably], I had to keep turning the pages to see how the story unfolded.
I have one correction to one of the reviews above: Lucy Grealy did not die of cancer. Her cancer never returned. She actually became a heroin addict, and it it believed that her mixing drugs and alcohol ultimately caused her death. Thus, I have to wonder if that review even read the book, or whether they got the "cancer" story from an inaccurate blurb on the Internet.
The topic of this book would lead one to believe it's a dull story of the friendship between two female writers; but for me, once I started reading, I could not put it down. I'd recommend it, especially as a nice change for people who usually read legal thrillers and romance novels.