Read This: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

It's hard for me to recommend Truth & Beauty because I can think of two words to succinctly describe it, and one of them is sad. The other word, of course, is powerful. I suppose I am advocating that you read it for the second word, if you can handle the burden of the inherent sadness. However, if you're in a state where you don't want to read a "downer" book, maybe this isn't for you. At the same time, I think we are in a culture addicted to being happy—and maybe fully recognizing and exposing ourselves to a wider range of emotions can help us, as a society, develop a sense of empathy that seems to have gone missing from the world.

In short, I recommend this book. But if you find it moderately depressing, don't say I didn't warn you.

Ann Patchett wrote Truth & Beauty shortly after her dear friend and fellow writer, Lucy Grealy, died at 39. Lucy had cancer as a child that left her face and jaw disfigured, and had over 30 surgeries in her lifetime. In Truth & Beauty, Ann chronicles their friendship, which blossomed while rooming together at the Iowa Writer's Workshop in Iowa City, continued long distance (predominately pen-pal style) while Lucy was in Scotland for surgery, and persisted while Ann settled in Nashville and Lucy "settled" in New York.

I must put settled in quotations for Lucy, as she never seems settled—she seems boundless. Through reading Truth & Beauty, I feel like I got to know Lucy on an almost intimate level. Ann includes letters from Lucy that capture her spirit, her struggles with self-worth and depression, and her desperate desire to find true love.

There's definitely some darker adult content in this book—sex, drugs, abortion, suicide attempts. Yet still, to me, the book feels sweet. I think that's due to the current of deep friendship underlying it all.

Ann also shares their collective struggles of to break into the writing world, something they both successfully did during their friendship, which I enjoyed from an aspiring writer's perspective.

Not only did this book make me want to read Ann Patchett's other works, but I also put myself on the library wait list for Lucy Grealy's memoir, Autobiography of a Face. Have you read any Patchett or Grealy? Would love to know your thoughts!

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