Book Review: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett (4/5)

11 Jul

Again, I forget how this book graced my list. I’ve got to stop this because it’s been a bad trend of reading a book I really enjoy and not having someone to thank for the recommendation after I’ve read it. If you’re out there, thank you, referrer, for gracing me with this beautiful book.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

Summary from Goodreads:

What happens when the person who is your family is someone you aren’t bound to by blood? What happens when the person you promise to love and to honor for the rest of your life is not your lover, but your best friend? 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 Iowa 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.

I’ve never read another of Patchett’s books and I’d never heard of Lucy Grealy before starting this book. Now I feel tempted to add both to my growing TBR. Patchett had a great narrative voice for a memoir like this one. She was lyrical enough to write beautiful prose but not so much to make it feel ungrounded. I was amazed by Ann’s unending love for a friend that pushed her to such extremes. I’ve had tough relationships with friends before, but none that have pushed me as much as Lucy pushed Ann. I marveled at her patience and love.

Lucy Grealy Image via Goodreads

Lucy Grealy
Image via Goodreads

Patchett made Lucy jump off the page. I didn’t look up a picture of Lucy until I was writing this review and she looks pretty similar to what I imagined. To be honest, I thought her jaw would look much more notable than it does in this picture (I’m not sure what stage of surgical reconstruction this comes during). Yes, it’s noticeable, but not something that would stop me on the street. I can see how the resulting problems of being unable to eat or completely close her mouth would result from this and I sympathized for Lucy for the majority of the book. I felt sorry for her when her behavior was self-abusive, but for a long time, she seemed redeemable. It seemed like things could work out for her and she could be OK. But when the drugs started, it was hard to sympathize with her and I could tell Ann felt the same way.

I hope Ann didn’t make herself too different in this book because I really liked her. She was caring and smart and seemed to make logical decisions so I could see myself being like her. I wanted to be like her. She was hard-working and really believed she could be a writer and make a living doing that. Or maybe she seemed so level-headed next to Lucy. Who knows but I still liked her.

I have a good friend in an MFA program and the things she’s told me about the journey seemed very similar to the time Lucy and Ann spent in Iowa. There’s grading and being a TA and writing and workshopping and success and failures and cold. It seems MFA programs are never anywhere warm, always in the Midwest or New England. The residencies they were always competing for seemed really fun and like a writer’s dream. I wish it didn’t’ seem an MFA was the key to getting in.

Ann Patchett Image via the Chicago Tribune

Ann Patchett
Image via the Chicago Tribune

I liked their time in Iowa and that immediately after, when they were both struggling to write and be heard. It reminded me of being right out of college, living in a small dingy apartment and wondering what to do next. I think many people go through that part of their life and choose not to look back on it, but Patchett addressed it perfectly as a painful but necessary step to get to where you are.

Hearing about Lucy’s drug addiction was really hard for me. She seemed to have so much going for her and I couldn’t understand why she would do those things to herself. Nothing was ever enough for her and she pushed so much to change her situation but couldn’t control it. I didn’t see how drugs made her feel more in control. I felt bad for her at her at first, but it didn’t seem like she had any desire to change her situation.

Patchett narrated the audiobook herself and I thought that was a lovely touch. She didn’t get overly emotional, but it was clear that she had a deep love for Lucy and she made their nicknames for each other seem effortless and fun. I think another reader could have done it well, but Patchett did it best.

I question now how far I would go for a friend and how far a friend would go for me. Is it different from what I would do for a relative or my husband? Why? Why does blood matter when someone is so important to us? I loved what Patchett had to say about friendships, they are more powerful than family sometimes and that’s something I need reminding of from time to time.

Writer’s Takeaway: Patchett had a great way of making a narrative poetic. Some authors are too flowery for my tastes, but Patchett did it well. She would tie in metaphors and some imagery when I wasn’t expecting it but never too much to take me out of the story. I enjoyed that and I think it made the story stronger.

An enjoyable memoir, to be sure, that says a lot about the value of friendships. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts: 
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett | Taking it to the Streets
My Ann Patchett project: Truth and Beauty | AlenasLife
Sullen Grealy, sister of author Lucy Grealy, is Hijacked by Grief | Books on the Brain
Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty: A Mixed Bag | Lily Iona Mackenzie


2 Responses to “Book Review: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett (4/5)”

  1. Janet MacLeod Trotter July 11, 2016 at 11:56 AM #

    Reblogged this on Janet MacLeod Trotter and commented:
    Great review of Ann Patchett’s non fiction book about friendship, TRUTH AND BEAUTY



  1. Book Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (4/5) | Taking on a World of Words - February 11, 2020

    […] books by Patchett reviewed on this blog: Commonwealth (and book club reflection) Truth and Beauty Bel […]


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