Ann Patchett's wonderful reading of her book 'Truth and Beauty' has accompanied my knitting and sewing up, and then cooking dinner yesterday. The book is the story of her friendship with a fellow writer and poet called Lucy Grealy, with whom she shared a house when they were studying together in Iowa. It is the story of Lucy, because her physical and emotional tribulations dominate their friendship, but we learn as much about Ann as we do about Lucy from the story, and it is about the twenty years of their lives that was shared so intensely.
Linked to the wiki page is this Guardian article written by Lucy's sister Suellen, in which she describes feeling that their family's grief has been hijacked by Ann's version of what happened to Lucy. I was a little taken aback by the accusation because the book casts no judgement on Lucy's family nor accuses them of any failings, she didn't write about Lucy's family because she didn't know them; it is purely about the intensity of their friendship and as such the loss that her death inflicted on Ann, surely such a friend has as much need to grieve as the family. This sentence seems to sum up a tinge of bitterness Suellen feels towards someone who was possibly closer to her sister than she was: "My sister Lucy was a uniquely gifted writer. Ann, not so gifted, was lucky to be able to hitch her wagon to my sister's star." I felt this is a terrible and erroneous accusation, both about Ann Patchett's writing and her friendship with Lucy. It's funny, even though the book is told so wistfully in the past tense, with such exquisite tenderness and fondness, it wasn't until the pain killers and then the heroin get mentioned that it even occurred to me that she was going to die. You can't help but fall a little in love with Lucy yourself as you listen, she is just one of those people who throws themselves at life, the ultimate carpe diem character. She is somewhat wild and carefree, incautious in all her endeavours. She throws herself into Ann's arms on their first meeting as if they had always loved each other and in assuming that she does what else can Ann do but love her. And it turns out she can enchant horses and cats as easily as people. The story follows them as they try to write, to teach, to find meaningful work and to find love, an eternal quest and struggle for Lucy. Following childhood cancer Lucy was left disfigured, and her desire to 'fix' herself is something the book catalogues in detail, it unavoidably becomes Lucy's defining feature and Ann's role to support and encourage her throughout the process. It leaves you a little in awe of how much suffering one person is capable of enduring.
A couple of things I wrote down that I liked: this one was not about Lucy but about Elizabeth McCracken, she and Ann both completed manuscripts and printed them out together, I liked the exuberant sense of achievement at having produced some tangible writing:
"We stood on our books to see how much taller they had made us."
And the other, when she is helping Lucy to tidy and declutter her home prior to another round of surgery, they are sorting through her book and music collections. I like what it says about Ann, I think I would like her because I really get this;
"I had the supreme pleasure of putting all the discs back in their correct cases."
In the face of an avalanche of books about love and romantic relationships often the importance of friendship is sorely neglected, and this is a real homage to the value of friends, written as the title claims, with truth and beauty.