My Ann Patchett project: Truth and Beauty

Cover of "Truth and Beauty: A Friendship&...

Cover of Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

Having now read Ann Patchett’s honest look into her inspiring and unhealthy friendship with Lucy Grealy, I feel I have a greater understanding of the complex female relationships in her works of fiction. She delves deeply into what it means to be a friend, what it means to love unconditionally, and what it means to lose yourself in someone else’s pain. I felt like a fly on the wall of their 20 year relationship.

Patchett tackles this memoir unafraid to expose both herself and Grealy. From the very beginning, we understand that she is unapologetic about this relationship. She will present it honestly, warts and glories.

…after all, what novel or poem or play in an Introduction to Literature class couldn’t benefit from a truth-and-beauty discussion?”

Knowing nothing at all about Grealy, but feeling deeply familiar with Patchett, I tended to wonder how the two got entwined so deeply. It seems one of those inexplicable attractions when the solid, grounded anchor (Patchett) attached itself to a flighty, yet dynamic bluebird (Grealy).

I love that Patchett is willing to let Grealy look bad, really bad. Grealy is selfish and angry. She spends any money she has and continually “borrows” from her many friends.  She must, at all points, be the center of attention and, on the surface, does not seem to return Patchett’s loyalty and dedication. And yet…I too grow to love her, to understand her fierce talent and deep longing.

About Grealy’s desire for one true, all-consuming love, Patchett compares her need to the scale of Grand Central Station. She talks about first filling it with Grealy’s friends and lovers which might fill one restaurant. Next you could add her fans and those who have read her book and it might look like a smattering of bodies against that immense space. But, ultimately, Grealy could not find enough people/happiness/love to fill the space.

You could pack in thousands and thousands more people, and still it wouldn’t feel full, not full enough to take up every square inch of her loneliness.”

That image just about broke my heart and I immediately understood Patchett’s deep love and devotion. Not that she tries to portray herself as a saint. Just like with Grealy, she writes her own strengths and flaws with precision. It’s no fun to always be the anchor and she tries (unsuccessfully) to shed her own persona. But, as Grealy points out to her,

It’s your blessing and your curse. You’re always going to be fine.”

More than a memoir about two talented, engaging women, Truth and Beauty is an ode to friendship. Patchett celebrates the deep love these women share. Despite the tragic outcome, the reader comes away with the feeling that Patchett would not have done it differently.

Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.”

6 thoughts on “My Ann Patchett project: Truth and Beauty

  1. Have you read Grealy’s sisters response to Truth and Beauty. She thought it was completely offensive and inaccurate in terms of her sister. Just search in google and you will find it – definitely gives a different spin on their friendship and on Patchett.


    • Oooh, how intriguing. No I didn’t even know Grealy had a sister. I don’t know if I’m ready to have Ann Patchett knocked off the pedestal on which I keep her. Of course I will have to look for it. Thanks Cassie.


    • She is definitely that kind of writer. She enticed me with BEL CANTO and then completely hooked me with STATE OF WONDER. I decided that in 2012 I would finish reading all of her books. So far, so good. In the middle of RUN. Only 2 more books to go and I still love her.
      Thanks for your comment.


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