Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Truth, beauty, friendship & the writing life

Last week I read Ann Patchett's memoir of her friendship with the late Lucy Grealy, poet, autobiographer, and tortured soul. Truth & Beauty is a beautifully written, compelling and painful account of the complicated relationship between two women who couldn't be more opposite: Patchett was (and is) well-grounded, disciplined, mature; Grealy was child-like, obsessive, demanding, due perhaps to the childhood bout with jaw cancer that left her permanently disfigured and forever in search of the next surgery that would miraculously restore her face and her looks.

I wonder at the enormous amount of energy it took to be Lucy Grealy's friend. And she had many, many devoted friends -- even when she was so damaged by her addictions that there was not much of her left inside the battered body, her friends took care of her. As the book barrels towards the inevitable outcome of Lucy's descent into self-destruction, we become stand-ins for Lucy's friends, drained like them of hope and energy but still hanging on to Lucy's potential, the fading light of her extraordinary spirit.

Lucy's quest for love, her inability to accept what was, could well be linked to the fact that her face, that metaphor for the self, was always a work in progress. In the end, what is surprising is that Lucy hung in there as long as she did -- probably a testament to the strength and will of her devoted friends. But where was her family? In her obits, it says that Lucy was survived by her mother and sisters. Where were they? Patchett certainly never mentions them.

Patchett tries valiantly to show why Grealy aroused such passion and devotion in her friends, but frankly, I can't really see it. And yet, I can identify more with the tortured, self-destructive Lucy than with the responsible, grounded Ann. I suppose that says something about me...

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