Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

Posted by nliakos on April 4, 2012

by Ann Patchett (Perennial 2005; originally published by HarperCollins in 2004)

Bel Canto is one of my favorite books. This book isn’t a novel, though; it’s a memoir, the story of the close friendship (love, actually) between the author and her friend Lucy Grealy.  It’s a testimony to friendship and love, and a study of a unique character. Lucy Grealy had cancer of the jaw as a child; the treatments she received then caused the lower part of her jaw to collapse, and she spent the remainder of her life having one failed surgery after another to try and repair the damage, hating the way she looked (which kept changing after each surgery). In her endless quest for romantic love (the love of her friends was not enough), Lucy led a dangerously promiscuous life, and in the end, it was an overdose of drugs that killed her. Throughout, Ann Patchett and other friends supported her unreservedly and put up with behavior that must have been at times quite difficult to tolerate. The reader wonders how they never seemed to tire of serving Lucy. She must have been a really extraordinary person.

As I read, I did wonder a bit what Lucy’s family thought of what is a very revealing book; what is revealed is not always very nice. I happened to find this article written by Grealy’s sister on just that topic. It kind of throws light on the other side of the story.

Reading this has made me want to read Grealy’s memoir, Autobiography of a Face. I remember reading reviews of it when it came out and thinking yes, how difficult it would be if one’s face–how we present ourselves to the world, in a way, how we recognize ourselves for who we are–were completely disfigured (like the “Elephant Man”). Patchett describes Grealy’s face as much worse than it looked in the pictures I saw of her online; but then again, the face kept changing, so I don’t know if she looked quite different from some of the pictures I saw.



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