Books Made of Paper

Ann Patchett: ‘Truth & Beauty'

Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.

Have you ever had a friend so fascinating you wanted to write a book about her?  Ann Patchett did. The book Truth and Beauty is about her friendship with fellow writer, Lucy Grealy, with whom she went to Sarah Lawrence and then the writing program at Iowa.  There, they became lifelong friends, literally, because Lucy lost her life to drug addiction at the age of 39.

I was immediately drawn to the friendship aspect of the story, because, like a lot of people I know who have gone to graduate school, that’s where some of my deepest friendships were made. It’s especially true of writing programs, and I’ve felt incredibly lucky to have not only a network of supportive and inspiring peers, but a handful of incredible lifelong friends. While we probably spend less than five percent of our time talking about writing, our common interest is the glue that first bound us together.

Ann Patchett

Ann seems to enjoy a similar friendship with Lucy in that regard. They’re supportive and try not to compete, but mostly, they understand one another and have a magical time together. That is, until Lucy’s depression reaches new heights. Lucy had cancer in the bone of her jaw as a child, and what’s revealed throughout the book is how her treatment and surgeries led to a tragic adulthood. With hardly any teeth, an incomplete jaw and a face that is always changing from one surgery to the next, Lucy goes through life physically uncomfortable, but more than that, feeling ugly and unlovable.

For this reason, Ann’s friendship with Lucy is not a one-way street. Lucy requires unconditional love even when she’s acting unlovable. It’s described best in one remembered conversation:

“’You’re such a good friend,’ [Lucy] said dreamily. ‘What did I ever do to deserve a friend like you?’

‘You’re a good friend to me, too.’

‘Oh no I’m not. Not like you.’”

I’ve never had a friend like Lucy Grealy. Someone who requires so much and is only able to—or only does—give a percent of it back.  But by the time Ann discovers how troubled Lucy is, she already loves her like a sister. I can understand how impossible it would be to desert someone in need when you consider them family.

Have you experienced a friendship like this? Someone who needs more help than you can give?

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