Friday, November 30, 2007

Truth and Beauty

Thank you for the book suggestions in response to my very short list of memoirs I liked. I was reminded of one that I read but had somehow forgotten: Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. Another excellent example of a memoir written by someone who is both a gifted writer and has a story worth telling.

Another suggestion I received was Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, the story of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, which I then had to immediately rush out and read. Grealy suffered from cancer as a child and had part of her jaw removed. As a result, she spent most of her adult life undergoing one surgery after another to try and rebuild her face. Although bright, popular, and talented, the failure of her numerous surgeries took their toll. She developed a heroin habit and was found dead in her apartment in 2002, apparently from an accidental overdose. Throughout her adult life, Ann stood by Lucy, offering support through unsuccessful surgeries and her struggles as a writer. Lucy's constant need for reassurance and to be the center of attention, not to mention her eventual drug habit, would strain any friendship. Indeed, Ann had moments where she wanted to step back for fear of being an enabler, but still they remained close friends.

I wish I had read the two books one after another to get a better sense of the disparity between the two views on this fascinating woman and her troubled life. Patchett is well-known as a writer and for good reason. Her memoir is just as compelling as her fiction, but of course is much more personal and painful. How do you write a book about your very best friend's self-destructive path to an early death? Patchett manages beautifully and creates depth to what I remember as just an over-simplified newspaper blurb after Grealy's death.

I found an odd article by Lucy Grealy's sister, Suellen, called "Hijacked by Grief." In the article, she is apparently saying that Patchett's book somehow robbed her of her grief, though she insists that Patchett didn't actually do anything wrong. She specifically says that signing an agreement to let Patchett use Lucy's letters was a "mistake" but doesn't say why. She mentions that many items were missing from Lucy's apartment after her death, but quickly says her friends deserved to take some of her things. A series of statements about how she was hurt followed by almost apologetic reasons as to why the people in question were justified in their actions made up the bulk of the article. Her point is lost to me and the whole thing left me a bit bewildered. Maybe you can make some sense of it.

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