When she was an undergrad in college, Ann Patchett knew of Lucy Grealy. Everyone did. Most people only knew Lucy as the girl with the face. Lucy had lost part of her jaw on the right side of her face due to Ewing’s Sarcoma as a child. Lucy was incredibly popular and everyone knew who she was and because they knew her story, they thought they knew Lucy. Ann Patchett knew of Lucy, but when they were both starting out as graduate students at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, they ended up living together because neither could afford an apartment on her own. It was the start of an immediate and intense friendship that lasted nearly twenty years.
Truth and Beauty is Ann Patchett’s first non-fiction work. She is best known as being the author of Bel Canto. Lucy Grealy was Ann’s best friend. Lucy died in 2002 of an accidental drug overdose. I imagine that this is a book that never would have been written had Lucy not died, nor could it have been, given the nature of their friendship. Perhaps because of this, “Truth and Beauty” is a very powerful book. It is not quite a memoir, but rather the story of a friendship. It is neither about Ann nor about Lucy, but is about “Ann and Lucy”.
This friendship is one that spanned nearly two decades. Ann takes us from their first true meeting through Lucy’s numerous surgeries (nearly 40 during Lucy’s life), through drugs and loneliness, through writer’s residency programs and successful book publications, through the end of Lucy’s life and Ann’s grief. The only time Ann spends time about their lives apart from each other is only in how the separations were a part of the relationship and what impact they had, and how they kept coming back together.
“Truth and Beauty” is a deeply moving, sad, funny, and beautifully written book. The book jacket says that “this is a tender, brutal book about loving a person we cannot save.” It is this, and more. It is a book that I had a hard time putting down and while it is difficult to say that I “enjoyed” the book, because of the subject matter, I can say that “Truth and Beauty” is an excellent (written with excellence, in the true sense of the word) book.