Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

3.9 53
by Ann Patchett

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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

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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 & 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 tender, brutal book about loving the person we cannot save. It is about loyalty, and being lifted up by the sheer effervescence of someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Sun-Times
“Unforgettable...carefully rendered and breathtaking.”
Joyce Carol Oates—New York Times Book Review
“An inspired duet...riveting.”
“...lyrical, lovely...Patchett has preserved her friend’s talent in this book, and provided more evidence of her own.”
“{a} loving, clear-sighted portrayal..”
New York Times Book Review - Joyce Carol Oates
"An inspired duet...riveting."
New York Times Book Review
“An inspired duet...riveting.”
Janet Maslin
The beauty of this book is in the details, and in the anecdotes so colorfully recalled. There is Lucy's blind date with George Stephanopoulos, who answered her personal ad in The New York Review of Books. There is the time the two aspiring authors watched "Glengarry Glen Ross" in horror, wondering what life would be like if they held David Mamet-style jobs. And there is the way Ms. Grealy could move down the street, "everyone waving as if she were gliding past on a rose-covered float." The drive-in bank teller would say hello. Ms. Grealy, however much she loved attention, sighed and told Ms. Patchett: "That's not even my bank."
The New York Times
Jocelyn McClurg
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.
USA Today
Lisa Zeidner
… this memoir, dedicated to Grealy, is more love letter than autobiography. No reader will doubt the sincerity, or ferocity, of the love.
The Washington Post
The New York Times Book Review
Truth & Beauty is a harrowing document, composed in a spare, forthright style very different from the elegant artifice of Patchett's best-known novels...It can be no surprise that the memoir of a friendship that ends in the premature death of a gifted writer does not make for cheerful reading. And yet there is much in Truth & Beauty that is uplifting, a testament to the perennial idealism and optimism of the young.—Joyce Carol Oates
The New Yorker
Lucy Grealy attained prominence, in 1994, with “Autobiography of a Face,” a restrained account of acute disfigurement and continual surgery after a childhood tumor required the removal of much of her lower jaw. Grealy died of a heroin overdose in 2002, at the age of thirty-nine, and Patchett’s memoir of her friend, whom she first met in college, reveals a level of anguish that was submerged in Grealy’s book. Patchett sees herself as the hardworking ant to Lucy’s glamorous grasshopper, with her life in New York, countless friends, and a habit of finishing work at the last minute. But Grealy’s tremendous gift for friendship signalled a deep neediness and an inability to be alone that also made it difficult for her to sit down and write. If Patchett’s book doesn’t quite stand on its own, it is a moving companion to Grealy’s.
Publishers Weekly
This memoir of Patchett's friendship with Autobiography of a Face author Lucy Grealy shares many insights into the nature of devotion. One of the best instances of this concerns a fable of ants and grasshoppers. When winter came, the hard-working ant took the fun-loving grasshopper in, each understanding their roles were immutable. It was a symbiotic relationship. Like the grasshopper, Grealy, who died of cancer at age 39 in 2002, was an untethered creature, who liked nothing more than to dance, drink and fling herself into Patchett's arms like a kitten. Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars; Bel Canto) tells this story chronologically, in bursts of dialogue, memory and snippets of Grealy's letters, moving from the unfolding of their deep connection in graduate school and into the more turbulent waters beyond. Patchett describes her attempts to be a writer, while Grealy endured a continuous round of operations as a result of her cancer. Later, when adulthood brought success, but also heartbreak and drug addiction, the duo continued to be intertwined, even though their link sometimes seemed to fray. This gorgeously written chronicle unfolds as an example of how friendships can contain more passion and affection than any in the romantic realm. And although Patchett unflinchingly describes the difficulties she and Grealy faced in the years after grad school, she never loses the feeling she had the first time Grealy sprang into her arms: "[She] came through the door and it was there, huge and permanent and first." Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (May 14) Forecast: Patchett and Grealy are graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and alumni and other literary types will be interested in this book. National advertising and a reading group guide could make it popular among a more general women's audience. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Mourning her best friend, Lucy Grealy, Patchett relies on memory and selections from Grealy's letters to write of their shared lives in this moving tribute and eulogy. Ironically, Grealy (Autobiography of a Face) succumbed to a heroin overdose at age 39 after surviving Ewings Sarcoma as a child and multiple facial surgeries throughout her life. Alumnae of Sarah Lawrence College, the women met at the University of Iowa while working on their MFA degrees and became lifelong friends. Patchett's loneliness and love for her friend is heard in her voice; tonal variations aid the listener in identifying the speaker at any given moment. This program will be of interest to fans of both women. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Laurie Selwyn, Grayson Cty. Law Lib., Sherman, TX Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Lucy Grealy, whose Autobiography of a Face (HarperCollins, 1995) found critical acclaim as well as a popular readership, died two years ago. Patchett first met the poet in college, became her roommate in graduate school, and remained devoted to her through years of artistic, medical, economic, and emotional upheavals. The ties binding these two women included resolve to meet physical adversity with energy and to place friendship beyond the reaches of either habit or convenience. Patchett moves the story from their acclimation to one another through her friend's lifelong desire to gain a reconstructed face and the lengths to which she went in search of what she'd lost to childhood cancer, to Grealy's ultimate slide into drugs and suicidal ideations. Patchett's own self-perception as the straight arrow to her friend's daredevilry is disclosed across time, as is Grealy's increasingly frenetic chase for a reconstructed face and, as important, for fame earned through writing. In spite of the story unfolding through the years between college and near middle age, teenage girls will find it accessible and engaging. The author's clear-eyed depiction of the writer's life as requiring gigs waiting tables and suburban tract housing is refreshingly honest. She includes details of more glamorous moments as well; this is no cautionary tale, but a celebration of friendship and of craft.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In her first nonfiction, novelist Patchett (Bel Canto, 2001, etc.) paints a deeply moving portrait of friendship between two talented writers, illuminating the bond between herself and poet Lucy Grealy. Although they were undergraduates together at Sarah Lawrence, it was not until 1981, when both were teaching and writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, that the young women's lives collided. As Patchett recounts it, the tiny Grealy (Autobiography of a Face, 1994) leaped into her arms. "It was not so much a greeting as it was a claim: she was staking out this spot on my chest and I was to hold her for as long as she wanted to stay." That image persists in their 20-year friendship; Grealy had a powerful hold on her many friends, Patchett included. A survivor of childhood cancer with a badly disfigured face and a frail body, Grealy struggled with enormous physical difficulties, bouts of depression, and money problems; she was also given to reckless sexual adventures. Early in their friendship, Patchett decided that she would not spend her time worrying about her friend; instead, she would show her love in actions. And she did so for the rest of Grealy's short life, providing shelter, paying bills, giving post-surgery care, cleaning up the messes. After Iowa, their lives took different paths, but their friendship remained strong. Patchett saved Grealy's letters to her and includes generous excerpts that make it easier to understand her commitment to her demanding friend. The letters reveal Grealy's warmth, her captivating intellect, her poet's eye. After her last round of surgery failed, she went from prescription painkillers to street heroin, and her life spiraled downward, but even whenGrealy was most devastated and difficult, Patchett still found her the person she knew best and was most comfortable with, the friend like no other to whom she could speak with "complexity and nuance."A tough and loving tribute, hard to put down, impossible to forget. Agent: Lisa Bankoff/ICM

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Truth & Beauty
A Friendship

Chapter One

The thing you can count on in life is that Tennessee will always be scorching hot in August. In 1985 you could also pretty much count on the fact that the U-Haul truck you rented to drive from Tennessee to Iowa, cutting up through Missouri, would have no air-conditioning or that the air-conditioning would be broken. These are the things I knew for sure when I left home to start graduate school. The windows were down in the truck and my stepsister, Tina, was driving. We sat on towels to keep our bare legs from adhering to the black vinyl seats and licked melted M&Ms off our fingers. My feet were on the dashboard and we were singing because the radio had gone the way of the air conditioner. "Going to the chapel and we're -- gonna get mar-ar-aried." We knew all the words to that one. Tina had the better voice, one more reason I was grateful she had agreed to come along for the ride. I was twenty-one and on my way to be a fiction writer. The whole prospect seemed as simple as that: rent a truck, take a few leftover pots and pans and a single bed mattress from the basement of my mother's house, pack up my typewriter. The hills of the Tennessee Valley flattened out before we got to Memphis and as we headed north the landscape covered over with corn. The blue sky blanched white in the heat. I leaned out the window and thought, Good, no distractions.

I had been to Iowa City once before in June to find a place to live. I was looking for two apartments then, one for myself and one for Lucy Grealy, who I had gone to college with. I got a note from Lucy not long after receiving my acceptance letter from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She said that initially when she heard I had gotten into the workshop she was sorry, because she had wanted to be the only student there from Sarah Lawrence. But then our mutual friend Jono Wilks had told her that I was going up early to find housing and if this was the case, would I find a place for her as well? She couldn't afford to make the trip to look herself and so it went without saying that she was on a very tight budget. I sat at the kitchen table and looked at her handwriting, which seemed oddly scrawny and uncertain, like a note on a birthday card from an elderly aunt. I had never seen her writing before, and certainly these were the only words she had ever addressed to me. While Lucy and I would later revise our personal history to say we had been friends since we met as freshmen, just for the pleasure of adding a few more years to the tally, the truth was we did not know each other at all in college. Or the truth was that I knew her and she did not know me. Even at Sarah Lawrence, a school full of models and actresses and millionaire daughters of industry, everyone knew Lucy and everyone knew her story: she had had a Ewing's sarcoma at the age of nine, had lived through five years of the most brutal radiation and chemotherapy, and then undergone a series of reconstructive surgeries that were largely unsuccessful. The drama of her life, combined with her reputation for being the smartest student in all of her classes, made her the campus mascot, the favorite pet in her dirty jeans and oversized Irish sweaters. She kept her head tipped down so that her long dark blond hair fell over her face to hide the fact that part of her lower jaw was missing. From a distance you would have thought she had lost something, money or keys, and that she was vigilantly searching the ground trying to find it.

It was Lucy's work-study job to run the film series on Friday and Saturday nights, and before she would turn the projector on, it was up to her to walk in front of the screen and explain that in accordance with the New York State Fire Marshal, exits were located at either side of the theater. Only she couldn't say it, because the crowd of students cheered her so wildly, screaming and applauding and chanting her name, "LOO-cee, LOO-cee, LOO-cee!" She would wrap her arms around her head and twist from side to side, mortified, loving it. Her little body, the body of an underfed eleven-year-old, was visibly shaking inside her giant sweaters. Finally her embarrassment reached such proportions that the audience recognized it and settled down. She had to speak her lines. "In accordance with the New York State Fire Marshal," she would begin. She was shouting, but her voice was smaller than the tiny frame it came from. It was no more than a whisper once it passed the third row.

I watched this show almost every weekend. It was as great a part of the evening's entertainment as seeing Jules et Jim. Being shy myself, I did not come to shout her name until our junior year. By then she would wave to the audience as they screamed for her. She would bow from the waist. She had cut off her hair so that it was now something floppy and boyish, a large cowlick sweeping up from her pale forehead. We could see her face clearly. It was always changing, swollen after a surgery or sinking in on itself after a surgery had failed. One year she walked with a cane and someone told me it was because they had taken a chunk of her hip to grind up and graft into her jaw.

We knew things about Lucy the way one knows things about the private lives of movie stars, by a kind of osmosis of information ...

Truth & Beauty
A Friendship
. Copyright © by Ann Patchett. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Truth and Beauty because I wanted to know how Ann Patchett would write non-fiction. I had read (and been entirely captivated by the luminescence of the prose in ) both State of Wonder and Bel Canto and I was almost over-whelmed by the beauty of Patchett's fiction. Would she be able to produce the same effect for me in this odd autobiographical/biographical story of the most important friendship in her life? The answer is perhaps as complicated as that friendship. This book reads almost like it were by a completely different person. Even the diction seems different! At the same time, though, the sense of wonder with which Patchett has her characters approach their worlds in her fiction is present all throughout this book as well, making it perfectly deserving of its name. Patchett writes about what she sees as the truth of her epic friendship with Lucy Grealy, but (despite the darkness that shadows the latter part of the book) she writes about this truth--this heart-breakingly rich friendship--with the wonder and the awe, the laughter and the tears, the poise and the surrender of facades that great beauty can engender. The truth of this story is its beauty; the beauty is its truth. Another reviewer here scoffed at this book, calling Ann and Lucy co-dependent and hinted at dark motivations in Patchett's heart for writing this book. How could this person have read the same book I did?? Was the relationship between the two women almost disturbingly intense? Without a doubt. Did I wonder what Patchett got out of the friendship? Maybe a little. Did Patchett's motives for telling her tale seem to be some kind of exoneration for both Lucy and her? Again, I would answer affirmatively. But to me, that is the key word: I believe Truth and Beauty is, indeed, Patchett's affirmation of the magnitude of the love she bore for her friend and that her friend bore for her, mixed with the great sorrows that only a friendship of this magnitude can generate--and still exist. Patchett, I think, didn't write this book for me or you. She wrote it for herself and for Lucy. And I'm certain Lucy would have loved it
Hikingalseattle More than 1 year ago
This book left me thinking, long after I'd finished the last page, about the human longing for recognition and "true love", and about where the roots of depression lie. The most interesting aspect of the story to me, was the fact that Lucy spent her life searching for something that was illusive to her. Although she evidently had many, many people who loved her, their love was never enough to fill the void for Lucy, and this was the true driving force of her life. I wondered, too, on a less philosophical note, about what role eating little but sugar & alcohol played in Lucy's depression. Ann Patchett has illuminated Lucy's complex mix of extreme intelligence, narcissism, insecurity, wit, and charisma in a beautifully written love letter, that captivates. It's a warts and all tribute to a fascinating friendship between two talented and intelligent women.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ann and Lucy are writers who met at the University of Iowa's esteemed Writers Workshop. They also attended the same college, Sarah Lawrence, but did know each other there. Lucy barely acknowledged Ann in those days. When they became roommates in Iowa, Ann's affection for Lucy took on an All About Eve quality. Ann became Lucy's servant, and Lucy ordered her about in a strange, lurid, psycho-drama that only Ann seemed to think was a normal girlfriend friendship. This was not, in my opinion, a healthy relationship. Rather, it was a disturbuing, co-dependent relationship, with latent lesbian features. I base this on Ann's own descriptions of the extent to which she went to please Lucy. No one I know would go to these lengths to please a girlfriend. Ann seems to working through her own issues throughout this book--sexual orientation, friendship, affection, romance, professional achievement. I just wish she could be more honest with her feelings and take us, the readers, one layer below. For example, she notes, with pleasure, that she slept with Lucy on many cold mornings--in a twin bed. What was Ann thinking, experiencing, fantasizing, and feeling during these nocturnal encounters with her bosum buddy Lucy? This book has a weird fascination that makes it noteworthy and eminently readable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was beautiful, heartbreaking, honest, raw, funny, and everything in between. The story of a perfectly imperfect friendship between two perfectly imperfect women. You can't read it without thinking of your best girlfriends and you come out of it loving and appreciating them all a little bit more.
Sally6 More than 1 year ago
I found myself wanting to read this, but yet struggled doing so. The friendship was strong and with so much inner turmoil that it almost made me crazy. I have had a close friend who was as needy, and I had to back far a way, so I understood the pull Ann and Lucy had with their friendship.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the way Ann Patchett writes. I think her use of language is crisp and descriptive. However, this is not an easy read. I'm glad I read it, and the book is a testament to friendship, but sometimes the friendship was such a burden that I wondered how it was sustained.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book about two women who shared an unbelievably close emotional relationship. At the start of the book, Lucy and Ann lived together as graduate students at the University of Iowa. They dated men but at the end of a long day, were usually together. Lucy professed her love for Ann, leapt into her arms, smooched her lips, crawled into her bed, watched her take nude baths. Was this merely a platonic riendship or was there more to it than that? I would argue that their romance had lesbian overtones. Oddly enough, the L word is not to be found in this book despite a plot that reminded me of a 1950s lesbian pulp novel about two women who fall in love, marry, but remain in love. Erotic or platonic love. You, the reader, be the judge.
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I laughed and cried.  I related to both Ann and Lucy, sometimes feeling closer to one and then the other.  Having lived in NYC I pictured in my minds' eye not only the places but the time frame.   They both felt passionately about their own work and about their friendship. Ann's writing is simply poetic.  To have a friend like Ann was to Lucy or Lucy was to Ann is a gift.  I have such a gift and this relationship has made Ann's writing even more beautiful. A must read!
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