Thursday, July 17, 2014

Just finished reading...

Ann Patchett has made me fall in love with her words, her writing, and her storytelling all over again.  This woman is a writer to be reckoned with.  She has the ability to captivate, inspire, and motivate her reader.  I'm serious.  Her books are that fucking good.  They not only entertain you, but they evoke so many questions that you can't stop thinking about what you've just read.  I absolutely love the experience of reading an Ann Patchett book, because I know that means that I will be embarking on a damn good story filled with excellent writing that will knock my socks off.  Which is why I was eager to gobble up her memoir, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

In this book, Patchett details the twenty year friendship she shared with the poet/author, Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face).  We get the nitty gritty inside look at a highly dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship that was mired in manipulation, love, devotion, and neediness.  Patchett does not hold back.  She's brutally honest about the roles each woman played within the friendship - Ann was the ant, whilst Lucy was the grasshopper (you know the story, where the ant worked all summer storing up food for the winter, whilst the grasshopper didn't and wound up asking the ant for help when the weather turned cold.)  Of course, its never quite clear why Ann took the role of ant so dutifully - perhaps, she felt someone had to in Lucy's life?  I don't know, but I certainly couldn't understand why Ann and Lucy were ever friends to begin with. 

Throughout the book, we learn more and more about this very one-sided friendship that is filled with too many ups and downs to even count.  Over and over, you see Ann playing second fiddle to the Lucy Grealy show.  I couldn't help but get exasperated and annoyed by both Ann and Lucy.  Of course, this book is from Ann's perspective, so I do wonder how skewed the story truly is.  Although, Ann does pepper the writing with letters written to her from Lucy, that show a woman who was filled with deeply emotional issues and who was beyond needy (which goes to show that Ann's portrayal of Lucy appears to be accurate).  The letters also show us an intelligent woman who loved the written word, but whose life was consumed by surgery and pain (as a child she was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw and had to endure nearly forty surgeries in her short lifetime - she died at the age of 39).  Lucy Grealy was definitely one of a kind.

Ann's love for Lucy never faltered, though her feelings about their friendship may have at times.  How could it not, when Ann's role seemed to consist of the following: encouraging her to write; telling her she was beautiful and that she loved her best (Lucy would curl up on her lap in front of other friends and ask Ann point-blank if she loved her best); listening to her ramble on and on and on about sex and whether or not she would ever have it again (even if she had just finished having sex); giving her money;bathing her and taking care of her after surgery; and just doing everything and anything to make Lucy happy.  Ann was the epitome of the devoted friend, but what about Lucy?  What did she do for Ann?  What did her friendship provide?  In what ways was she there for Ann?   I'm struggling to figure that out.  Friendships are about being there for one another through thick and thin (which Ann most definitely was for Lucy).  I didn't see Lucy being there for Ann at all.  Of course every friendship is different and subjective to what the friends make it out to be - so maybe Ann got what she wanted from Lucy ( a friend who tested/challenged her in so many different ways ).   I did look up what people thought of this book though and its rather interesting.  Many people  think of Truth & Beauty as a terrifically well written memoir about two writers and their tragic friendship (Lucy died of a drug overdose).  Others think that Ann painted Lucy in a poor light and only used their friendship as a means for writing material.  And then there are those who found this book to be a testament to Lucy Grealy.  The more I think about it, I'm not sure what to make of the story.  I know that Ann loved Lucy dearly.  And, I'm positive that Lucy did love Ann in her own way. I feel like this story was Ann's way of dealing with the loss of her best friend and sharing with the world the Lucy she knew (the good and bad).

I'm still mulling over this book, days later after I've put it down.  I can't help it.  Ann's writing has floored me once again.  Plus, this crazy/love friendship of hers' has me thinking about some of my own relationships.  Especially the ones from college and grad school, because they seem to mirror so many aspects of Lucy and Ann's complicated and tumultuous relationship (freaky!).  I'm starting to wonder when I became the ant and didn't know it.  Of course, none of my friendships were as heartrending as Ann and Lucy's, but they had their moments.  I'm thinking of how we seemed to live in each others' pockets at that time and thrived in that closeness.  We shared secrets, desires, loves, fears, ideas, opinions, goals with one another as easily as we shared our food, couches, beds, cars, books, cds, and clothes.  Our lives were inseparable. We were in deep and that meant betrayals were forgiven, but not easily forgotten.  Like Ann and Lucy, we had our silly moments of dancing around in our apartments on a weeknight when we should be studying, talking about boys over cigarettes and tequila, and planning our futures of living in Paris/NYC/London.  And then there are the times when we argued on Giant's Causeway over a miscommunication, dated an ex we shouldn't have, spilled food on THE shirt, got tired of being in charge of everything in Italy, and had a huge blow up fight in the middle of Walmart.  Friends argue, get jealous, hurt one another - it happens.  Too much quality time can become problematic, especially as we get older.  And sometimes, friends outgrow one another.  So, while I can see how some of my past friendships were a bit dysfunctional, I am happy that none were as unhealthy as Ann and Lucy's.   My friends would not monopolize my night at my own celebratory dinner by grabbing me every other minute to ask me if I love them best.  Nor would they tell me that I'm only their friend because I relish the role of dutiful caretaker.  Its just seems crazy to me how much of Lucy's bullshit Ann put up with.  But then I think about how much we let someone we love hurt us and can sort of understand why Ann made so many allowances for Lucy.  We've all had our fair share of dysfunctional relationships.

Anyhow, I think I've rambled on long enough about this fantastic piece of nonfiction, Truth & Beauty.  Its certainly a must-read for fans of Ann Patchett and anyone interested in books about friendship.  Let me know what you think of it - I'm curious to see how you view Ann and Lucy's friendship.  And now, I'm off to read Landline by Rainbow Rowell.  Happy reading!!


Lisa said...

Ahh, now I have kind of passed over this one despite my deep love of Patchett. Clearly that has been a mistake.

A Bookish Way of Life said...

Lisa, definitely give it a go. Its a worthwhile read for sure.

Heidi’sbooks said...

I've read one Ann Patchett book and I have two on my shelf. I also have Americanah on my TBR shelf! I need to get going.

A Bookish Way of Life said...

Heidi, read Patchett when you have the chance - she is amazing!! I need to get to Americanah, too!