Writer Ann Patchett always knew in an intellectual sense what a hard time her friend Lucy Grealy had confronting the world with a face disfigured by cancer and the horrific treatments that followed. But it may not have truly come home to her until she visited Lucy in Scotland, where she was having yet another complicated, ultimately unsuccessful reconstructive surgery. This time, the treatment had caused Lucy's face to swell like a balloon. And some of the local lads made no pretense at being polite. One of many incidental encounters with drunken louts: "They barked and screamed to be helped, rescued, saved. 'Save me from the dog girl!,' they cried . . . I let go of Lucy's arm and ran into them screaming, smacking, shoving blindly into all there was to hate."
Lucy knew that all too many people saw her as a freak because of her appearance. It wounded her psyche, and helped lead to her early death from drug abuse in 2002. But she did have the creative talent to turn her experience into a successful memoir, Autobiography of a Face. And she had friends like Patchett, who has now memorialized Lucy in the lyrical, lovely Truth & Beauty.
Patchett, the author of Bel Canto and other critically acclaimed novels, met Lucy in college, but became her friend in the University of Iowa's famous creative writing program. Patchett describes herself as the careful ant and Lucy as the grasshopper—too casual about sex, bills, booze, but always brilliant, always entertaining. They loved each other.
At first, they sustained one another through the typical travails of young writers, the scramble for grants, fellowships, contacts. But as Lucy's life spiraled out of control and Patchett's stabilized, Patchett found herself trying to save her friend. Inevitably, she failed. No one could have succeeded: Lucy lived in a vast cavern of loneliness.
Lucy was unable to finish any substantial writing after Autobiography, but Patchett liberally quotes her letters, all filled with insight and keen intelligence. Patchett has preserved her friend's talent in this book, and provided more evidence of her own. Copyright 2004 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 March #1
In her first nonfiction, novelist Patchett (Bel Canto, 2001, etc.) paints a deeply moving portrait of friendship between two talented writers, illuminating the bond between herself and poet Lucy Grealy.Although they were undergraduates together at Sarah Lawrence, it was not until 1981, when both were teaching and writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, that the young women's lives collided. As Patchett recounts it, the tiny Grealy (Autobiography of a Face, 1994) leaped into her arms. "It was not so much a greeting as it was a claim: she was staking out this spot on my chest and I was to hold her for as long as she wanted to stay." That image persists in their 20-year friendship; Grealy had a powerful hold on her many friends, Patchett included. A survivor of childhood cancer with a badly disfigured face and a frail body, Grealy struggled with enormous physical difficulties, bouts of depression, and money problems; she was also given to reckless sexual adventures. Early in their friendship, Patchett decided that she would not spend her time worrying about her friend; instead, she would show her love in actions. And she did so for the rest of Grealy's short life, providing shelter, paying bills, giving post-surgery care, cleaning up the messes. After Iowa, their lives took different paths, but their friendship remained strong. Patchett saved Grealy's letters to her and includes generous excerpts that make it easier to understand her commitment to her demanding friend. The letters reveal Grealy's warmth, her captivating intellect, her poet's eye. After her last round of surgery failed, she went from prescription painkillers to street heroin, and her life spiraled downward, but even when Grealy was most devastated and difficult, Patchett still found her the person she knew best and was most comfortable with, the friend like no other to whom she could speak with "complexity and nuance."A tough and loving tribute, hard to put down, impossible to forget.Agent: Lisa Bankoff/ICM Copyright Kirkus 2004 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2004 May #2
In her first nonfiction work, the author of the best-selling Bel Canto recounts her extraordinary relationship with poet Lucy Grealy, whose Autobiography of a Face memorably recounts her ordeal with cancer as a child and the subsequent operations to reconstruct her face. The two first met at Sarah Lawrence College and, after being accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop, became roommates out of necessity. Their friendship began there and developed into an intellectually stimulating relationship that shaped them as both women and artists. They remained best friends until Grealy's tragic death in December 2002. To tell her story, Patchett effectively intersperses her memories with Grealy's letters and also considers how adults forge familial relationships. The result is a contemporary story of friendship and the writing life at once intense, honest, and heartbreaking. Most highly recommended for all libraries, whether public or academic.-Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 March #5
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 of cancer 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." Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (May 14) Forecast: Patchett and Grealy are graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and alumni and other literary types will be interested in this book. National advertising and a reading group guide could make it popular among a more general women's audience. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 September
Adult/High School-Lucy Grealy, whose Autobiography of a Face (HarperCollins, 1995) found critical acclaim as well as a popular readership, died two years ago. Patchett first met the poet in college, became her roommate in graduate school, and remained devoted to her through years of artistic, medical, economic, and emotional upheavals. The ties binding these two women included resolve to meet physical adversity with energy and to place friendship beyond the reaches of either habit or convenience. Patchett moves the story from their acclimation to one another through her friend's lifelong desire to gain a reconstructed face and the lengths to which she went in search of what she'd lost to childhood cancer, to Grealy's ultimate slide into drugs and suicidal ideations. Patchett's own self-perception as the straight arrow to her friend's daredevilry is disclosed across time, as is Grealy's increasingly frenetic chase for a reconstructed face and, as important, for fame earned through writing. In spite of the story unfolding through the years between college and near middle age, teenage girls will find it accessible and engaging. The author's clear-eyed depiction of the writer's life as requiring gigs waiting tables and suburban tract housing is refreshingly honest. She includes details of more glamorous moments as well; this is no cautionary tale, but a celebration of friendship and of craft.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.