Already a fan of Ann Patchett, I knew I would probably enjoy her memoir, Truth and Beauty. When my friend Emma at work told me, no, insisted that I read it, I ordered up a copy and started it on the ride home from work last Friday. Um, I finished the book at about 10 AM on Saturday. Patchett, who befriends a gregarious, infamous girl from her college, Lucy Grealy, while both attend the infamous Iowa Writer's Workshop, writes about their "epic" (as the front cover blurbs) relationship.
Lucy Grealy, whose memoir, An Autobiography of a Face, propelled her to literary stardom before she succumbed to the lasting tragedy of a childhood illness, which resulted in thirty-eight surgeries, a lifetime of pain (literal and psychological), and a terrible drug addiction. People were simply attracted to Lucy -- they all knew who she was, and she gathered up friends and acquaintances, and filled up her world with them. Even though a rare form of Ewing's sarcoma left her face permanently altered, Lucy pushed on through life, scars showing inwardly and outwardly. While tragic, the point of the book, from my perspective anyway, was to truly exhalt the idea of friendship, how in some cases it simply pulls someone into your life forever.
While both writers struggle to start their careers at the beginning of the book, Truth and Beauty also narrates their successes. For Patchett, it came upon the publication of her fourth novel, Bel Canto; for Grealy's, it arrived suddenly with her memoir (and not from her poetry, per se). The two women support each other, derive inspiration from one another, and work extremely hard for many of the same goals (fellowships, etc.).
The most affecting part of the book for me, obviously, was Lucy's struggle with illness (I haven't read her book, by the way). There was a point in the memoir when Ann Patchett described how Lucy felt toward people suffering from disease with no outward symptoms, how unfair and/or angry (and I'm paraphrasing) this made her. In a way, I could relate -- the Wegener's has scarred my face (acne from the meds), bloats my features (prednisone), lost me a hip, and caused up and down weight gain (as has, um, age and inactivity!). But in another way, I could see what she was saying as well, that to walk around with a very physical reminder of how a disease had effectively ruined your face is quite different from dealing with some pimples and a few pounds.
Yet, I can't help thinking it was a little unfair (and perhaps I'm taking it a little too personally) to judge the amount of someone's suffering simply by outward scars of their disease. The Wegener's attacks my insides, makes me exhausted, puts me in fear for my organs, has ruined my lungs, and all kinds of other internal things that can't be seen. And I live with it every day. It's amazing, at times, to think that your body has the power to kill you when every ounce of your flesh has evolved to survive. There's a psychological struggle with disease that's there regardless of whether one has scars on the inside or out -- I suppose that's where I kind of determined there was a selfish streak to Patchett's dear friend.
Annnywaaay. Truth and Beauty is well worth the read. It's a good book to buy for your best friend just to send along to say, "I love you this much." To say, "if you had lost everything I would send you kitchen appliances and JCrew t-shirts too." To say, "this book says it so much better than I ever could."