Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

by Ann Patchett

Hardcover, 2004




Harper (2004), Edition: First Edition, 272 pages


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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Ann Patchett met Lucy Grealy in college, but their friendship blossomed during graduate school at the Iowa Writers Workshop. The two complemented one another: Lucy was a free spirit, Ann was organized and practical. But Lucy’s life was complicated by childhood cancer which left her with virtually no jaw, and all of the self-esteem issues that can arise from looking different. As an adult, Lucy had several reconstructive surgeries, but none were successful. The two women supported each other as they encountered personal and professional challenges; Ann was always quick to hop on a plane to New York to visit Lucy any time she was needed, and especially after surgery. Lucy died young (not a spoiler, it’s evident in the dedication), but she left an impact on everyone who knew her.

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.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This is Ann Patchett's memoir of her friendship with author Lucy Grealy. Lucy, who was badly disfigured in childhood due to intensive treatment for cancer in her jaw area, is a passionate, brilliant, funny, and ever childlike woman who longs for love. I mean, I know that most of us long for love but as Ann describes her friend, this woman *aches* to be special and to be deeply and obsessively loved. Lucy and Ann met in college, at Sarah Lawrence College, and became friends when they shared an apartment while enrolled at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. The rest is, as they say, history.

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.
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LibraryThing member mouse612
In order to fully apreaciate this book read it and The Autobiography of a Face close together. Both are beautifuly written, moving portraits of a life reflected through a freindship, and from the inside.
LibraryThing member rachelellen
# What merit I found in this book was due almost entirely to Patchett's narrative style. The author of two of my most-often-recommended books, Bel Canto and The Magician's Assistant, doesn't disappoint on that score in this -- what does one call it, a memoir?

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.
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LibraryThing member jennyo
Truth & Beauty is Patchett's book about her relationship with Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face. Like all the Patchett books I've read so far, it's very well written and compelling to read. Lucy was a charismatic but very troubled young woman, and her friendship with Ann often crosses the line from being something beautiful to being something dysfunctional.

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.
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LibraryThing member primalprayer
Beautiful writing and a beautiful story about the authors friendship with Lucy Grealy, another author who had had a horrible cancer as a child that deformed her face).
LibraryThing member Gurubani
This is my kind of book;a memoir, great writing and people you like
LibraryThing member rosencrantz79
Given to me by a close friend after we parted ways post-Peace Corps, this is my favorite book about friendship. I've read plenty of reviews that fault Patchett for letting herself be "used" by Lucy Grealy, but I applaud Patchett for this honest portrayal of a friendship that was not always easy. Despite the difficulties Lucy and Ann sometimes faced--loss, disease, drug addiction, success--their friendship remained strong and became the net that caught both of them each time they felt they were losing their grip on life. Beautifully written.… (more)
LibraryThing member yourotherleft
"I have the most extraordinary friends. I've never really understood why everyone has been so good to me, and now I can interview them, talk to them and see." Then she added as a gift, "I'll write a whole chapter about you."

"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'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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lindsayg
This is a nonfiction book in which Ann Patchett writes about her best friend, the late Lucy Grealy. Lucy lost most of her jaw to cancer as a child. It caused countless health problems and she had one painful surgery after another throughout her life trying to correct the problem. I was a surprised by how limited medical science is in this area. I had never realized how little they can do in a situation like this. The book is really about Ann and Lucy's friendship, which began in college. Ultimately it's a sad story, but the friendship between the two women is lovely to read about. It made me want to read Grealy's book: Autobiography of a Face.… (more)
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Friendship is an curious thing - especially if one of the relationship develops emotional or dependence issues. What is sad is that often people who are spiraling out of control won't let themselves be helped. Ultimately I thought this memoir was most interesting for what it says about the author - who she is. Also interesting to me was the nuts and bolts of her writing career - getting started.… (more)
LibraryThing member beata
Very unusual autobiography, in which we learn much more about the author's friend than about her. Real masterpiece and beautifully read by the author.
LibraryThing member franoscar
Very well-written story of her friendship with Lucy Greeley, author of Autobigraphy of a Face. Greeley had a horrible bout of cancer when young & lived the rest of her life with the physical results of the destructive treatment. Apparently Patchett & many other people found Lucy's positives woth the neediness & self-obsession that Patchett documents here, but I don't believe I learned why.… (more)
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
About her weird friendship with Lucy Grealy, the Girl Without a Face. I read and liked the latter a lot; but the Lucy portrayed in this book is an insufferable needy narcissist, forever needing to be loved and the center of attention. She finally dies of a heroin overdose, Ann Patchett enabling her all the way. Why she loved her so much I never understood.… (more)
LibraryThing member mbergman
Patchett's nonfiction account of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, who worries repeatedly that she's not pretty & that she will never find love & compensates with lots of sex & drugs. It's a story that's a dime a dozen these days and gets really tedious.
LibraryThing member ilovebooksdlk
I read this shortly after reading Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a face. This book is a beautiful and honest tribute to their very special friendship. Patchett is honest about not only the beauty of the friendship, but also the strains of "carrying" Lucy through some of her dark periods.

A beautiful book, but I'd recommend reading Grealy first to set yourself up for this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member goldiebear
This book was brilliant. After reading Autobiography of a Face, I thought it only appropriate that I read this as a follow up. I am glad I did. It really brought everything home. I think I actually enjoyed this book even more. I think it shows the power of friendship. Maybe I am a bit biased, because I have had a lot of emotional relationships with friends that many people never understood. I admire Ann for being Lucy's friend through everything. Lucy really put her through a lot, yet she stood by her no matter what. I admire that and I strive for that in my own life. She was not judgemental (for the most part) and really understood what it meant to be a friend. I think that is one of life's most important and hardest things. This book was beautiful. I plan to send it to two of my friends who I think it was also hit home with. Some people may wonder why Ann stood by Lucy the way she did, but I never questioned it while reading this book. Lucy's life was an amazing one, but I think this story of their friendship is even more amazing.… (more)
LibraryThing member kathy_h
i enjoyed this book immensely, in a way that i have been unable to enjoy patchett's fiction...not sure why...but anyhow, i loved the friendship between ann and lucy and thought it was a very true picture of the special relationship that can exist between two women.
LibraryThing member leavemealone
A wonderful and real story about a lifelong friendship...
Read it.
LibraryThing member zacchia
Ann remembers her friendship with Lucy Grealy, from the first time she met her in high school to when they found her dead in her apartament. It is a story of friendships. it tells the struggle of Lucy with her face and her countless operatios, of her struggle to find love.
Pleasant, not very deep.… (more)
LibraryThing member suedonym
It's a fast read and an affecting account of an odd relationship. Much about Lucy was hard to like, yet Patchett manages to make the reader see how so many people cared so deeply about her. I honestly didn't think I'd like this book (it was a gift) but it pulled me in.
LibraryThing member pictou
A lovely story of friendship where unconditional love provides a lifeline for a friend, most of the time. What I learned--love cannot save everyone, sometimes it's never enough.
LibraryThing member sarahferstel
This memoir, in which Ann Patchett exposes the insecurities and private life of her supposedly dear friend Lucy Grealy, should be skipped. Patchett believes that in telling the story of her friendship with Lucy, she is showing the world a more complex and interesting side of a tortured soul, but, in reality, Patchett uses this book as a platform to present herself as a saint and hero. The deep bond these two women share is not tied up in their literary pursuits, as Patchett would have us believe, so much as it is tied up in Lucy's deep and pathological need for love (either platonic or romantic) and Patchett's egotistical belief that she can best fill that need. By the end of this book, I was sick of both of these women. The style is an uninteresting linear narrative with too many details of old memories to be the truth. The one redeeming feature of this book are Lucy's private letters to Ann.… (more)
LibraryThing member ntempest
Patchett's recollections of her long friendship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy. The book traces their relationship from their first meeting in high school, through college and graduate programs and the development of their writing careers, with honesty and compassion. Patchett is honest and forthright, not sugar coating Grealy's behavior but portraying her as a brave, insecure, sometimes crazy woman doing her best to stand up to the fate she was dealt as a child. There are times it is difficult to understand this friendship, as Grealy's behavior can sometimes be ugly. Her refusal to allow life to pass her by, however, is admirable, and it is a bravery that is obviously appealing and encouraging. A difficult, emotional read that stays with you for a very long time.… (more)
LibraryThing member Berly
This memoir shares the friendship between Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy, both writers. Lucy had cancer as a child and as a result lost most of her jaw and teeth. She is a pixie, both slight of weight and full of energy. Her ongoing struggles with medical issues are second to her emotional instability: there is never enough love to make Lucy feel treasured and beautiful. She is most comfortable in the hospital and around doctors because she understands the rules there: be stoic, follow the rules, don't question the doctors, be a good patient. She feels special and unique in the medical setting. In life, she strives to always surround herself with people and forget her ever-changing face and her loneliness.

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.
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