Book Review: Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

Book Review: Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

I first picked up The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett’s first novel a few years ago – and loved it! The entire story was comfortable for me, filled with themes revolving around a convent and cooking. I also enjoyed A Magician’s Assistant and Commonwealth but have struggled to dig into Taft and Bel Canto (which was, I think, her biggest hit). I delighted in the opportunity to hear her speak in Chicago a few years during her Commonwealth tour and appreciated when a friend gifted me with Ann’s memoir Truth & Beauty: A Friendship.

But as life sometimes interrupts excitement – and so Truth & Beauty sat on my to-be-read bookshelf until this past Thursday. I grabbed it for my treadmill read to get me started and on Friday – the first wintery-cold Chicago day, I sat curled up with my son’s cat (see Whiskers on Kittens) and entered into the friendship of Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy (1963-2002).

I must agree with the Washington Post back cover review – “at once a grief-haunted eulogy and a larger meditation on the solace and limitations of friendship.”

That said, I personally felt far more drawn into the struggles and triumphs of Ann and Lucy on their writers’ journey. I found myself a bit frustrated thinking about how opportunity is often wasted on the young – as these two young women seemed to squander opportunities at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the various fellowships and programs they were accepted to through the years.

At the same time, I could totally relate to them struggling to survive, longing to find their voice, and hoping for validation for their hard work and creativity. In comparing herself to all the other waitresses with whom she worked in Nashville, Ann writes, “Lucy and I had ceased to be distinguishable from everyone else and every day the ground was getting softer, swallowing us up a little bit more.” (p. 62)

Of her friend Lucy she also writes, “On one side of her was an enormous well of depression waiting to be given over to, the voice in her head that said she was unloved and therefore unlovable, and on the other side was a daily page minimum and … the belief that work would be her salvation…” (p. 62).

The levels of success they each reached turning dreams into reality by putting their butts in the seat and writing, is inspiring – and encourages me to keep working on my writing dreams. I hope to one day, like Ann, be able to write: “I had done the thing I had always wanted to do: I had written a book, all the way to the end. Even if proved to be terrible, it was mine” (p. 86).

While Ann beautifully shares a lovely, deep, and profound friendship with Lucy, I could not help but sense a subtle aftertaste of codependence and manipulation. I mean no disrespect and admit that perhaps I do not understand their friendship because I’ve simply never known such a bond. As I finished the book, I had to ask myself if I have somehow missed out on an important aspect of life in never having girlfriends with whom I could be completely and repeatedly raw and vulnerable and broken.

If you are looking for what Chicago Sun-Times calls an “unforgettable…carefully rendered, and breathtaking,” portrayal of young women who struggle to love themselves and find truth and beauty in and through one another, spend an afternoon or two with Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy.

 

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