Sunday, August 7, 2011

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship (memoir)

What is especially unique about this memoir is that it's not anyone's life story, or even, really, an anecdote from somebody's life, as memoirs so often are. If this book could have another appropriately descriptive title, it might be Autobiography of a Friendship.

Still, it's not a typical friendship. It's the story - really, the complete life cycle, from beginning to end - of the friendship between the author, Ann Patchett, and Lucy Grealy, best known for her book, Autobiography of a Face, which recounts her experience with a rare cancer with which she was diagnosed in childhood which left her severely disfigured, and the physical and emotional aftermath. Ann and Lucy met in college, but it wasn't until they became roommates while attending postgraduate school that the friendship between them was really born. Spanning almost two decades, during which both women become bestselling writers, always underlying the friendship is Lucy's desperate, nearly suffocating need for love, acceptance, and adoration, and ultimately, her self-destructive behavior that ends the friendship with absolute finality.

Knowing the ongoing ordeal Lucy existed under as a result of her childhood cancer, I wanted to have compassion for her, and if looking at her through a black and white lens, it's very easy to chalk up her "issues" to her being so victimized by circumstances beyond her control. Just below the surface of obviousness, though, was a person I found very difficult to actually like. She was manipulative, selfish, demanding, insensitive, narcissistic, and irresponsible.

This is not an uplifting read, but it is very thought-provoking. In addition to the spotlighted theme of friendship, threaded throughout the story are themes like perception, beauty, addiction, codependency, enabling, and the price of unconditional love. Lots to ponder.


  1. putting this on my wish list - the other too! thank you

  2. I've read Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. It was my book club's selelction a year or two ago. Most of us liked it. We almost chose her latest (can't think of the name at the moment) which is on the best seller's list now, as a more recent choice, but Mennonite in Little Black Dress won over as our choice.

    I'd heard of Grealy's book in the past. Your review made me wonder about her, so I Googled her and found out her story. Sad.

    Good review. It makes me curious, although I don't know if I'd seek the book to read it; however, if it fell into my lap, I probably would.

  3. Anita, Ann Patchett's latest book is "A State of Wonder," I believe. I haven't read any of her books except this one, and this isn't one I would have sought out except that it's my book club's current selection. I'm glad I read it, and I think it's going to make for a very interesting discussion.