The author of Bel Canto -- winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Orange Prize and long-running New York Times bestseller -- turns to nonfiction in a moving chronicle of her decades-long friendship with the critically acclaimed and recently deceased author, Lucy Grealy. What happens when the person who is your family is someone you aren't bound to by blood What happens when that person is not your lover, but your best friend In her frank and startlingly intimate first work of nonfiction, Truth & Beauty, Ann Patchett shines light on the little-explored world of women's friendships and shows us what it means to stand together.
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. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 05, 2005
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Excerpt from Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
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.