Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

by Ann Patchett
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Overview

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060572150
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/05/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 96,050
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain's Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.

Hometown:

Nashville, Tennessee

Date of Birth:

December 2, 1963

Place of Birth:

Los Angeles, California

Education:

B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1987

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.

Reading Group Guide

An Introduction from the Publisher
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 Iowas 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.

Topics for Discussion

  1. Ann and Lucy shared a deep and intimate bond. Is it only possible to form a relationship like that in early adulthood -- before careers are fully formed and long-term romantic relationships and children enter the picture? In what ways are our relationships with friends different than ones with our family members? Are they always different?
  2. How does Lucy's struggle with illness and her own body shape her way of dealing with life and with the people around her? Lucy was an enormously talented writer. Did she use that gift as a way to make sense of life? Do you think writers and artists see the world differently, or more clearly, than other people?
  3. Ann chose to write about their friendship in a very frank and intimate way -- to pay tribute to Lucy's life and their whole relationship by recording the moments of triumph and joy, as well as the times of anguish and despair. Would you have the courage to be so honest?
  4. The writer's life seems to require a magical gift or creative spirit and incredible drive and focus. Are these qualities contradictory or complementary? What do you think enables writers to persevere through the years of "night jobs" in restaurants and bakeries while they work to realize their dream?

Customer Reviews

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Truth and Beauty 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 70 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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book with a mix of emotions: I was frequently thrilled by the construction of a sentence while being saddened by the story it told. But the bottom line is that I loved it. Loved it in the unique kind of way that such a sad story can be loved. I loved Ann's courageousness to share such intimate, probably often painful memories. I loved the fact that anyone even wrote a memoir about friendship - one of the truest, most oft unsung staples of life. I find myself wishing that I could have a long gab with Ann and ask her more about Lucy or about her other friends. I feel like she understands both friendships and writing, which makes her book a remarkable offering. Yes, be prepared for a peek into a unuiqe relationship. Yes, be prepared for some sadness. Yes, have your phone handy to call up your best friend and tell him/her that you love him/her. But don't close your mind because of tears or differences. Let Ann and Lucy's friendship take you by storm, and enjoy it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is being publicized as a moving account of an enduring, loving friendship. It actuality, it is a disturbing tale of an unhealthy, co-dependent union between two women who both have severe emotional problems. Ann Patchett wrote an article for New York Magazine following the death of her friend Lucy Grealy; this book is simply a longer version of that article. Patchett cannot stop reiterating how everybody loved Lucy, how so many people were enamoured of her, 'so many people in love with her'. In reality, Grealy comes across as being very much alone. I get the impression that people viewed her as a sort of interesting novelty because of her history of illness and facial disfigurement, and that's why she got a fair amount of attention from various types of people. Certainly people were not attracted to her because of her sterling character. Even Patchett, who is bizarrely devoted to Grealy no matter how abominably she behaves, admits that Lucy was frequently awful. Lucy was the roommate from hell; she left all the cooking and cleaning duties to Patchett, while she herself left bowls of Cream of Wheat on the floor, left wet towels under pillows and runs up huge phone bills. After Patchett moves into a house with a boyfriend, Grealy, for some unexplained reason, gets a key to the place, which enables her to bring men there and have sex with them in Patchett and the boyfriends's bed. After doing so, she tells Patchett all about it...some friend! Despite Patchett's protestions about how wonderful Lucy is, I find Lucy to be downright unbearable; self-absorbed, reckless, promiscuous, thoughtless, and psychotically needy. Over and over she asks Patchett 'do you love me?'; over and over she is jumping into Patchett's arms, wrapping her legs around her waist, leaning her head on her shoulder, crawling into bed with her, hanging on to her as a limpet to a rock. Grealy is morbidly jealous on any relationship Patchett has with anyone else be they male or female. When Patchett wants to work with a woman named Betsy, she asks for Grealy's permission! Patchett does literally everything for Grealy; she gives, gives gives, while Grealy takes, takes, takes. What sense can be made of this? The only thing I can figure is that Patchett is a person who needs to be used. Grealy was a master at doing this, so no wonder Patchett was hooked on this creepy 'friendship' that seems more like a marriage. One final note: Grealy's sister Suellen, has some choice words about this book. You can read about her views in The Guardian Review. She is understandable upset by what she feels is the exploitation of her sister by Ann Patchett (who she does not regard as a very skilled writer) and by how her family has been portrayed since Grealy's death. Patchett remarked to Suellen that she has been working, writing, and living in 'the Lucy factory' and discussed film rights. Crass.
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully crafted story of an intense, demanding friendship in which Patchett seems to be doing all the giving. You question the health and craziness of that relationship throughout the book -- something Patchett herself doesn't address. That's disappointing.
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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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