Thursday, April 12, 2007

Truth and Beauty

Ann Patchett is a young American novelist who came into prominence with the publication of her bestseller, Bel Canto, which was when I discovered her. This was her fourth novel and she learned her craft at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop. There, in 1981, she met Lucy Grealy, a poet and later, the author of Autobiography of a Face, and they became lifelong friends.

Truth and Beauty is the chronicle of that friendship, a story of Ann Patchett's twenty year devotion to her friend, who died, in 2002, of a heroin overdose, at the age of 39.

My daughter first told me about these two books, which her book club read and discussed as a pair and I filed the information away as, interesting but later.

While on an Alaskan cruise we were on shore, wandering around the small town of Sitka and since I never pass a bookstore anywhere, we went into the local one. Looking around, I noticed that Truth and Beauty was displayed as the choice of one of the store people and I remembered that I wanted to read it, so I purchased it.

Back on the ship, I devoured it in less than a day. I found it a beautifully-written, mesmorizing story of the relationship between Ann, the "hard working ant" as she labels herself and Lucy, whom she calls the "glamorous grasshopper". It is a totally moving and unforgettable book. As I have said before in this book post, this is a book that moved me to tears.

Of course, immediately on our return, I bought Autobiography of a Face and read it. It's a totally different book, relating a similar story, but in a different way. Because I had read Ann's book first I was very sympathetic to Lucy, but when we read them both for the Short Book Club, those who read Lucy's book first were a bit exasperated with her.

At the age of 9, Lucy contracted Ewing's sarcoma and had half her jaw removed leaving her with a deformed face, an inability to eat normal food, even to close her mouth and over her lifetime she endured endless reconstruction operations to try to improve her physical condition.

Lucy came across as one of the neediest people you could ever have imagined. She was unable to be alone, always searching for love and she made some very bad choices because of it. She could also have been accused of using her friends, of whom, luckily, she had a vast number. So that, when she had exhausted the patience of one, there was always another.

But Ann, the straight arrow, was dazzled by this delightful, live-life-to-the-fullest daredevil and she provided a stability and devotion to her friend throughout the next twenty years, as she watched her live her precarious life. She was always there for Lucy, in every situation, displaying love and unwavering loyalty, till the end.

I hope I haven't made these books sound too depressing because they are not. I think that I can say that these books affected me very deeply and I'm very glad that I finally read them. If you choose to follow my example, I would recommend that you read Ann's book first, as I did, although Lucy's was published first. I thought it gave me a deeper understanding of Lucy when I read her book afterwards.

We should all be so lucky as to have such a friend as Ann Patchett was to Lucy Grealey.



14 comments:

Cathy said...

Those books do sound interesting. I might have to look for them to take with me the end of the month.

jmb said...

Hi Cathy,
They are very interesting but perhaps you need some really upbeat books for your journey.
Regards
jmb

Ian Lidster said...

The biggest problem with daredevil lives is that they are invariably short. Maybe such people pack more into those brief years, however, than the rest of us manage in a longer lifetime. Both books sound interesting indeed.
Thank you for your very kind compliments on my blog, by the way. Much appreciated.

Ian

jmb said...

Well Ian, I'm afraid her life was short because of her illness, in a way. She became a heroin addict because of that. Although maybe some would argue that she already had the personality for it.
Regards
jmb

Ellee said...

I wish I had time to read more books, you make these sound so interesting.

I think you should change the name of your blog, "Nobody Important" is not true of you.

james higham said...

In less than one second, we can go from fully functioning with all stops open and then wham! We're dependents. The fragility of life. There's no time for huge egos in this life.

jmb said...

Ellee, thank you for your kind remark but the more blogs I read the more unimportant I feel. There are a great many articulate passionate people out there blogging away.
I've always been a reader and with very eclectic taste.
Regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi James,
What you say is very true. One of my favourite blog reads is a young man with ALS, who has become very dependent recently. Early on he was such a firebrand but it is so painful to read now.
We must never take anything for granted because it can all be snatched away in an instant.
Regards
jmb

Rositta said...

Hi, thanks for your comment on my blog. I may have been right about digoxin, there has been a positive change...ciao

jmb said...

Hi Rositta,
That is good news indeed. I hope there will be lots more improvement
Regards
jmb

Lee said...

You keep coming up with the wonderful books, jmb...I'm going to have to spend a day in my nearest bookshop, I can see! I've so many I've got to read...I read a lot, but will never read all that I want.

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
I've read thousands of books over the years, in fact I own thousands! Do you have a good library system nearby or do you have to buy them all? I'm both a buyer and a borrower.
Regards
jmb

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

2 more to add to my list, jmb. Thank you. [I can't pass a book store either.]

jmb said...

Hi WCLC,

I guess getting books in English is not so easy for you although you probably read Italian books. Do they have Amazon.it with an English section?
When I have been in Italy I am always surprised how many lightweight English books are translated into Italian and they appear almost simultaneously. Also I find it difficult to discover who the contemporary Italian writers are.
Regards
jmb