four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
By: 
Ann Patchett
user_rating: 
0

A Friendship

A-TruthBeautyIn this memoir, Patchett compares her extraordinary 17-year friendship with Lucy Grealy, with whom she roomed at the Iowa Writers’ workshop, to Aesop’s grasshopper and ant fable. The insecure, self-absorbed Grealy (the partying grasshopper), who suffered from facial cancer and remained disfigured despite 38 operations, depended on Patchett (the industrious ant) for constant comfort, reassurance, and love. In chronicling their ups and downs, Patchett touches on Grealy’s drug use, romantic disappointments, and constant courtship with death. "Lucy’s loneliness was breathtaking in its enormity," she writes. In 2002, at age 39, Grealy died of an apparent heroin overdose. Patchett, recently estranged from her, was then forced to imagine the unimaginable: "the second half of my life, the half that would be lived without Lucy."
HarperCollins. 272 pages. $23.95.

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Ironically, the book often feels like a piece of fiction because both writers are so entertaining. … Ultimately, the book is about those we love, and those we try to save but aren’t able to, and how these relationships shape our lives." Renée Warner

NY Times 4 of 5 Stars
"This frank, perceptive book can be read in many ways, not only as a story of friendship but also as a young artist’s eye-opening introduction to the wider world. … The beauty of this book is in the details, and in the anecdotes so colorfully recalled." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]here is much… that is uplifting, a testament to the perennial idealism and optimism of the young." Joyce Carol Oates

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Ultimately, the power of Truth & Beauty lies in the one sentiment that goes unspoken but is increasingly palpable on every page. It’s in coming to the difficult realization that even a friendship that knows no bounds is not always enough in the end." Sarah Gianelli

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… a portrait of addictive devotion. … These first-person accounts of Grealy’s surgeries and of her desperate attempts to use sex to secure love, and to take heroin to mimic its highs, corroborate and add texture to Patchett’s portrait." Heller McAlpin

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Truth & Beauty (the title comes from a chapter in Grealy’s Autobiography) is heartbreaking, funny, disturbing, at times infuriating—just like the odd but endearing Lucy. … Patchett has written lyrical fiction, and while Truth & Beauty is highly readable, the language rarely rises to the poetic heights of Grealy’s autobiography." Jocelyn McClurg

Critical Summary

Patchett (The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto) has written a remarkable first memoir. Interspersing personal recollections with quotes from Grealy’s letters, she has created a loose sequel to her best friend’s acclaimed Autobiography of a Face (1994). The beauty of this honest, tragic, but strangely uplifting story lies in Patchett’s everyday descriptions—the way Grealy jumped into her arms, Grealy’s blind date with George Stephanopoulos following a personal ad in The New York Review of Books, Grealy’s nagging question, "Will I ever have sex again?" It’s also a poignant story of two young women navigating their way through the larger (and literary) world. Grealy, not surprisingly, can try one’s patience; Patchett’s ceaseless devotion seems rather saintly. But overall, the memoir testifies to true friendship’s lasting bonds.

Supplemental Reading

A-AutobiographyFace.epsAutobiography of a Face | Lucy Grealy (1994): "Grealy has turned her misfortune into a book that is engaging and engrossing, a story of grace as well as cruelty." Washington Post