30 Books in 30 Days: 8.27.11

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

Memoirs written by writers about friendship with another writer are a particular genre I’ve been fascinated by.  Another one that I have yet to read, perhaps because of its elegiac tone, is Gail Caldwell’s account of her friendship with the prolific writer, the late Carolyn Knapp, Let’s Take the Long Way Home .

Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett’s moving memoir about her intense and loving friendship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy is a beautiful paean to all of the sides of friendship–its lows and highs.  Ann is able to evoke the nuances of a friendship marked by moments of intense connection, shared passions and even times of power struggles and even downright unhealthy dynamics.  Throughout it all, she moves through the stages of their friendship from the time they met as newcomers at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop to the time of Lucy’s death because of cancer.  Writing about any friendship is tough.  But writing about a friendship with a figure who is so well-known and also as enigmatic as Grealy is even tougher.  And yet, Patchett shows that it is Grealy’s very engaging and beguiling personality that makes her at once such a joy and love to be with as well as such an object of misunderstanding from those who knew her.  What I love most about reading this memoir of a writerly friendship is that Patchett inevitably writes about her own writing life during the periods of this relationship.  We learn about Patchett’s development as a writer, about the year she waits tables and composes her novel in her head as she is doing waitress station work.  We learn about her moments of competition with Grealy, as any friendship with two writers must be rife with.  We learn also about the ways that these two women seemed to understand each other intimately, complimenting each other with their very different personalities.  To read an account of Grealy’s life, take a look at her memoir, Autobiography of a Face.  I admit to not having read it because I have shied away from its painful subject matter.  Amongst other things, it tells about her bouts with cancer and the subsequent surgeries she has had upon her face.  Patchett’s memoir serves to immerse the reader in the multitudinous layers of friendship without shying away from its most thorny or controversial moments.  It too has its disturbing moments, and I admit to being both drawn in and repelled by Patchett’s accounts of Grealy’s behavior.  Regardless, the book lives up to its name.  A truly beautiful read.

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