What happens when the person who is your family is someone you aren't bound to by blood? What happens when the person you promise to love and to honor for the rest of your life is not your lover, but your best friend? In Truth & Beauty, her frank and startlingly intimate first work of nonfiction, Ann Patchett shines a fresh, revealing light on the world of women's friendships and shows us what it means to stand together. Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy met in college in 1981, and, after enrolling in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, began a friendship that would be as defining to both of their lives as their work was. In her critically acclaimed and hugely successful memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, the years of chemotherapy and radiation, and then the endless reconstructive surgeries. In Truth & Beauty, the story isn't Lucy's life or Ann's life, but the parts of their lives they shared. This is a portrait of unwavering commitment that spans twenty years, from the long, cold winters of the Midwest, to surgical wards, to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this book shows us what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined. This is a tender, brutal book about loving a person we cannot save. It is about loyalty, and about being lifted up by the sheer effervescence of someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.
Both Ann and Lucy ultimately experienced literary success and fame, Ann as the author of several novels and Lucy through her memoir, Autobiography of a Face which now I simply MUST read. Truth and Beauty is Ann’s tribute to their intensely close friendship, and a very moving tribute it is.
Ann's patience for Lucy's dependence and frivolity is admirable; she herself acknowledges that her attachment to Lucy had an addictive quality. But their friendship is also so sweet, and so viscerally true. It is an illustration of the best of friendship and the worst of friendship. That Lucy's life ended so tragically is hardly a surprise and Ann wastes no time on maudlin regrets. She beautifully describes her desire for more time, even a week, with Lucy still in her life, but she refuses to glorify a desperate and terrible ending. If anything, she lets society off just a bit lightly.
This is the first of Patchett's works that I have read. Bel Canto has been on my TBR pile for at least a couple of years and I did give it a weak try just once (I think I read about two pages before setting it aside). This lovely memoir motivates me to give her fiction a try.
And therein lies the main problem -- it's not a memoir, but it's told with too much almost-voyeuristic detail to be a respectable biography. I suppose that what it's supposed to be is a memoir of a friendship, as well as a memorial tribute of sorts, but it would have been better, in my opinion, as an essay, without spending what amounts to a large part of a book going into so many sordid personal details. If someone writes about her own (appalling, really, in this case) promiscuity and drug use, you feel that she has the right to do so and that she's given you the right to read it -- whether one is interested in that sort of thing or not, she's putting the choice in the reader's hands. But no matter how close Patchett was to Lucy Grealy, the other half of the titular friendship, I felt like she was overstepping her rights. It was like she was giving us Lucy's diary to read, without her consent. I enjoyed reading about the more innocent aspects of their shared life -- their inside jokes, for example, and their trials and successes as writers -- but it seemed like a page couldn't go by without a shot of the kind of details that I personally think would have been better kept between Ann and Lucy, especially since Lucy wasn't the one telling the story.
I do realize that she was probably trying to avoid the standard "triumph of the human spirit" biography -- indeed, Ann and Lucy had a running joke about the various attempts people would make to turn Lucy into that kind of lesson. But somehow going too far in the other direction was even worse, for me, anyway.
Obviously Patchett cared deeply about Lucy and had reasons for writing about her life the way she did. And not being on the inside, so to speak, I really don't have anything to say about whether this story should have been written or not. But as a reader, a looker-on, I can say that I do wish I had been able to leave Lucy some respectful privacy. Had I known how deeply private this story was, I'd not have chosen to read it.
I read the book in a day and a half. I'm usually a fast reader, but I was so caught up in the story of this unique and obsessive relationship, that I found it hard to put the book down. I did think it was an excellent book, but it's one that I'd recommend cautiously as Lucy and Ann's story is often a painful one.
"I could write a whole book about you," I said, and laughed.
I really enjoyed this book. Ann Patchett writes beautifully, and I often found myself wanting to slow down my reading to enjoy the writing more fully. Patchett does a fine job of rendering Lucy's big personality, her huge emotional presence (as opposed to her small physical one), and her tendency to pursue things both good and bad with a reckless passion. While it's true that many elements of Lucy's behavior are downright selfish and irritating...Patchett manages to show Lucy in a positive light that captures the great things that Lucy brought into Ann's life along with the not so great things. In some sense, everybody needs a spontaeous, passionate friend who will jolt them out of their comfort zone and help them live their life more fully, but as Patchett shows, having a friend like this, in Lucy, was certainly not all fun and games as Lucy was nearly as passionate about feeling bad as she was about feeling good.
There were so many things in this book I felt like I could relate to - for example being the one who is the ant to a friend's grasshopper. She also describes the feeling of that lull between being a success at school and being a success in the "real world" where you're wondering if you'll ever get to that place where you're a successful somebody. All in all, this was a fine read, I was completely caught up in the story of Ann and Lucy's friendship, and Ann's love for Lucy permeates the story...it's an honest tribute to their friendship that encompasses both its good and bad moments. Patchett shows us that friendship can be messy and can easily fall apart, but love is the glue that holds it all together.
A beautiful book, but I'd recommend reading Grealy first to set yourself up for this one.
Pleasant, not very deep.
The book lives in the space where these two lives intersected, and portrays their friendship as very tight, even possessively so at times. " 'Do you love me? She threw one leg over mine and in doing so managed to swallow up all the air in the restaurant.' " This obsessive need for Ann's undying affection is also reflected in Lucy's letters (which I loved), interspersed throughout the book. I have heard that Ann is not mentioned very much in Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face and I am interested to read that soon and see how the two stories diverge. A good read.