Ann Patchett and the late Lucy Grealy met in college in 1981, and, after enrolling in the Iowa Writer's Workshop, began a friendship that would be as defining to both of their lives as their work. In Grealy's critically acclaimed memior, Autobiography of a Face, she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, years of chemotherapy and radiation, and 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 winters of the Midwest, to surgical wards, to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this is what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined ... and what happens when one is left behind.
This is a tender, brutal book about loving the person we cannot save. It is about loyalty, and being lifted up by the sheer effervescence of someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.
Lucy Grealy attained prominence, in 1994, with “Autobiography of a Face,” a restrained account of acute disfigurement and continual surgery after a childhood tumor required the removal of much of her lower jaw. Grealy died of a heroin overdose in 2002, at the age of thirty-nine, and Patchett’s memoir of her friend, whom she first met in college, reveals a level of anguish that was submerged in Grealy’s book. Patchett sees herself as the hardworking ant to Lucy’s glamorous grasshopper, with her life in New York, countless friends, and a habit of finishing work at the last minute. But Grealy’s tremendous gift for friendship signalled a deep neediness and an inability to be alone that also made it difficult for her to sit down and write. If Patchett’s book doesn’t quite stand on its own, it is a moving companion to Grealy’s.