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Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

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Truth and Beauty: A Friendship Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

The thing you can count on in life is that Tennessee will always be scorching hot in August. In 1985 you could also pretty much count on the fact that the U-Haul truck you rented to drive from Tennessee to Iowa, cutting up through Missouri, would have no air-conditioning or that the air-conditioning would be broken. These are the things I knew for sure when I left home to start graduate school. The windows were down in the truck and my stepsister, Tina, was driving. We sat on towels to keep our bare legs from adhering to the black vinyl seats and licked melted M&Ms off our fingers. My feet were on the dashboard and we were singing because the radio had gone the way of the air conditioner. "Going to the chapel and we're — gonna get mar-ar-aried." We knew all the words to that one. Tina had the better voice, one more reason I was grateful she had agreed to come along for the ride. I was twenty-one and on my way to be a fiction writer. The whole prospect seemed as simple as that: rent a truck, take a few leftover pots and pans and a single bed mattress from the basement of my mother's house, pack up my typewriter. The hills of the Tennessee Valley flattened out before we got to Memphis and as we headed north the landscape covered over with corn. The blue sky blanched white in the heat. I leaned out the window and thought, Good, no distractions.

I had been to Iowa City once before in June to find a place to live. I was looking for two apartments then, one for myself and one for Lucy Grealy, who I had gone to college with. I got a note from Lucy not long after receiving my acceptance letter from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She said that initially when she heard I had gotten into the workshop she was sorry, because she had wanted to be the only student there from Sarah Lawrence. But then our mutual friend Jono Wilks had told her that I was going up early to find housing and if this was the case, would I find a place for her as well? She couldn't afford to make the trip to look herself and so it went without saying that she was on a very tight budget. I sat at the kitchen table and looked at her handwriting, which seemed oddly scrawny and uncertain, like a note on a birthday card from an elderly aunt. I had never seen her writing before, and certainly these were the only words she had ever addressed to me. While Lucy and I would later revise our personal history to say we had been friends since we met as freshmen, just for the pleasure of adding a few more years to the tally, the truth was we did not know each other at all in college. Or the truth was that I knew her and she did not know me. Even at Sarah Lawrence, a school full of models and actresses and millionaire daughters of industry, everyone knew Lucy and everyone knew her story: she had had a Ewing's sarcoma at the age of nine, had lived through five years of the most brutal radiation and chemotherapy, and then undergone a series of reconstructive surgeries that were largely unsuccessful. The drama of her life, combined with her reputation for being the smartest student in all of her classes, made her the campus mascot, the favorite pet in her dirty jeans and oversized Irish sweaters. She kept her head tipped down so that her long dark blond hair fell over her face to hide the fact that part of her lower jaw was missing. From a distance you would have thought she had lost something, money or keys, and that she was vigilantly searching the ground trying to find it.

It was Lucy's work-study job to run the film series on Friday and Saturday nights, and before she would turn the projector on, it was up to her to walk in front of the screen and explain that in accordance with the New York State Fire Marshal, exits were located at either side of the theater. Only she couldn't say it, because the crowd of students cheered her so wildly, screaming and applauding and chanting her name, "LOO-cee, LOO-cee, LOO-cee!" She would wrap her arms around her head and twist from side to side, mortified, loving it. Her little body, the body of an underfed eleven-year-old, was visibly shaking inside her giant sweaters. Finally her embarrassment reached such proportions that the audience recognized it and settled down. She had to speak her lines. "In accordance with the New York State Fire Marshal," she would begin. She was shouting, but her voice was smaller than the tiny frame it came from. It was no more than a whisper once it passed the third row.

I watched this show almost every weekend. It was as great a part of the evening's entertainment as seeing Jules et Jim. Being shy myself, I did not come to shout her name until our junior year. By then she would wave to the audience as they screamed for her. She would bow from the waist. She had cut off her hair so that it was now something floppy and boyish, a large cowlick sweeping up from her pale forehead. We could see her face clearly. It was always changing, swollen after a surgery or sinking in on itself after a surgery had failed. One year she walked with a cane and someone told me it was because they had taken a chunk of her hip to grind up and graft into her jaw.

We knew things about Lucy the way one knows things about the private lives of movie stars, by a kind of osmosis of information ...

The foregoing is excerpted from Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

lissi, September 2, 2011 (view all comments by lissi)
Good book, well written about an unusual friendship.
To me, what there was of Lucy Grealy's story was compelling. I'm looking forward to reading "The Autobiography of a Face" since I've read that her writing is beautiful. But what I missed in "Truth & Beauty" was the depth of Lucy. What was it about her that made so many people care so deeply for her. I can't believe that it was just the celebrity of her story that kept her friends giving so much when, it appears from this book, that she gave so little.
Ann Patchett seems to have made herself out to be a saint without ever explaining what their friendship meant to her. I would love to hear another side to this story.
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E, December 28, 2009 (view all comments by E)
Lucy Grealy's "Autobiography of a Face" about her trials with a disfiguring cancer made a strong impression on me, so it was really fascinating to see a book written about her by a friend. Anne Patchett is very honest in this beautifully written book about their sometimes very tumultous friendship.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
Roseann, September 7, 2006 (view all comments by Roseann)
As unwavering in its honesty as Ann Patchett was in her friendship to Lucy Grealy, this loving biography of a friendship lingered with me long after I finished reading it. I was glad I'd read several of Grealy's books, including her memoir, first. She's a real human being to me now.
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(13 of 21 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780060572143
Subtitle:
A Friendship
Author:
Patchett, Ann
Author:
by Ann Patchett
Author:
by Ann Patchett
Publisher:
Harper
Location:
New York
Subject:
General
Subject:
Friendship
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Female friendship
Subject:
Disfigured persons.
Subject:
Ewing's sarcoma
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Biography-Women
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Series Volume:
89
Publication Date:
20040511
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
8.74x6.12x.95 in. .94 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship Used Hardcover
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Product details 272 pages Harper - English 9780060572143 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Patchett's eloquent prose gives a vivid portrait of the friendship that she and Lucy Grealy shared. I applaud Patchett's honesty and her refusal to gloss over the difficulties of their friendship. When I found out that Lucy Grealy had died, I was stunned and saddened. She was so full of genius and passionate beauty. I am grateful Patchett chose to give the world this book.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "This memoir of Patchett's friendship with Autobiography of a Face author Lucy Grealy shares many insights into the nature of devotion. One of the best instances of this concerns a fable of ants and grasshoppers. When winter came, the hard-working ant took the fun-loving grasshopper in, each understanding their roles were immutable. It was a symbiotic relationship. Like the grasshopper, Grealy, who died at age 39 in 2002, was an untethered creature, who liked nothing more than to dance, drink and fling herself into Patchett's arms like a kitten. Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars; Bel Canto) tells this story chronologically, in bursts of dialogue, memory and snippets of Grealy's letters, moving from the unfolding of their deep connection in graduate school and into the more turbulent waters beyond. Patchett describes her attempts to be a writer, while Grealy endured a continuous round of operations as a result of her cancer. Later, when adulthood brought success, but also heartbreak and drug addiction, the duo continued to be intertwined, even though their link sometimes seemed to fray. This gorgeously written chronicle unfolds as an example of how friendships can contain more passion and affection than any in the romantic realm. And although Patchett unflinchingly describes the difficulties she and Grealy faced in the years after grad school, she never loses the feeling she had the first time Grealy sprang into her arms: "[She] — came through the door and it was there, huge and permanent and first." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "A tough and loving tribute, hard to put down, impossible to forget."
"Review" by , "Dazzling in its psychological interpretations...candid in its self-portraiture, and gracefully balanced between emotion and reason...an utterly involving and cathartic elegy that speaks to everyone who would do anything for their soul mate."
"Review" by , "A harrowing document, composed in a spare, forthright style? Grealy's letters glow with the energy of a quirkily original voice?.The juxtaposing of these very different voices makes the memoir an inspired duet."
"Review" by , "To say that Truth and Beauty is a memoir about [a] friendship, while true, doesn't begin to do justice to the extraordinary bond the two writers shared or Patchett's refined reflection upon it."
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