Ann Patchett and the late 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. In Grealy’s critically acclaimed memoir Autobiography of a Face, she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, years of chemotherapy and radiation, and endless reconstructive surgeries. In Truth and 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 winters of the Midwest to surgical wards to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this is what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined–and what happens when one is left behind.
This is a memoir of a friendship which seems to address the questions like when does unique closeness become dysfunctional and unhealthy? uniquely intimate? codependent? almost physical? unhealthily close, or just unusually close? I found it an odd book in parts, as it seems to push most of Patchett’s life and participation into the background, and feature the increasingly dysfunctional actions of her friend. I found it hard to understand why they were friends in the first place, and why that friendship continued on Patchett’s end.
It was however a compelling read, and gave me a picture of a writer (Grealy) of whom I had never heard.