I’ve mentioned before that I love Ann Patchett’s books. She’s such a talented writer. She primarily writes fiction, but the nonfiction story of her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy (Truth & Beauty) is utterly fantastic. I read it a few weeks ago upon the advice of a dear, book-loving friend and I can’t stop thinking about it.
If you’re not familiar with their story, Lucy and Ann Patchett met in grad school at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Lucy had a rare cancer in her jaw when she was a child and a part of her jaw was removed as a result of her treatment. She spent the remainder of her life suffering through various facial reconstruction surgeries, crippled by feelings that she was ugly and unlovable. Despite this, she was an acclaimed writer and poet and published her own memoir on her struggle, Autobiography of a Face*.
In Truth & Beauty, Patchett recounts Lucy’s story, which her own adult life becomes intertwined with. It’s one of the most unique stories of friendship I’ve come across. As Lucy’s life becomes increasingly difficult (none of her facial reconstruction surgeries will take, leaving her physically and emotionally on the brink of collapse), Ann is there making heroic gestures: paying her bills, carrying her home from the hospital, etc.
I love Ann Patchett’s writing and I loved this book, so I was surprised to read some negative Amazon reviews – they’re pretty nasty. Readers accuse Ann of tarnishing her friend’s memory by portraying Lucy in a negative light while making herself seem saintly. Some say that she exploited Lucy by revealing nasty secrets about her and published the book to profit off of her death. Then, there’s the opposite end of the spectrum: people who are unwilling to believe that Ann could love Lucy so much in a platonic way and insist that the two were secret lesbian lovers.
I think it’s all craziness and the book seems to me to be Ann’s tribute to her friend and her way of grieving for Lucy’s loss. But it’s a very interesting topic for debate. Makes me wish I still had a book club to discuss it in! If you do have a book club (jealous), I highly recommend this book for it. Let me know how it goes!
*I also read Autobiography of a Face, and have to say, that I found Ann’s telling of Lucy’s story more compelling than her own. And I feel bad writing that because Lucy is dead and Ann clearly wants her readers to think Lucy is as dynamic and talented as she does, but if I had to choose between the two books, I’d pick Truth & Beauty. Just my two cents.