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Truth & Beauty Is a Book You Should Read

I am at peace with the fact that Ann Patchett and I could never TRULY be best friends. Even though it'd be super WAY AWESOME and she'd call and be like "Alice, I can't get this chapter done" and I'd be like "Don't sweat it, Ann, let's go get cheese fries!" and we WOULD and then she'd finish her book and be all "This book is dedicated to Alice and also cheese fries" and I'd be like "GOOD JOB INCLUDING THE CHEESE FRIES." Because I am a good friend who shares credit for things.



With some writing, I can't pinpoint why it's good — it's just good. And that's Ann Patchett. I will read anything she writes, and I can count the number of authors I'll do that for on one hand (another is Rainbow Rowell, 'cause damn, get it, girl). When I was 13 and newly into opera, I read Bel Canto because I was told the main character's voice was based on Renée Fleming's, and opera people were alllll about Renée Fleming back in the day.


If you haven't read Bel Canto, pretty much no one dislikes it. So you should read it. It's about a group of people at a party who are held hostage by some South American guerrilla fighters, and one of them is an opera singer and there's also the cutest French married couple on the planet, and it's all the best.


I also read What Now?, which is a stellar little book about post-graduation that you can read in about 20 minutes. It made me feel better about life and art and basically Ann Patchett is the cat's pajamas.


BUT, says Patchett, there is hope

So. Back in 2004, she wrote a book called Truth & Beauty about her poet friend Lucy Grealy. Lucy had cancer as a child, and as a result of this, a large section of her jaw was essentially gone. She spent the majority of her life undergoing operations to fix this while trying to make it as a writer. She and Ann went to grad school together and were subsequently very close.


This isn't strict non-fiction, as in a researched, cited book. And normally I hate anything that blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction, but the way this is told is as if Patchett said "Hey, I had a friend named Lucy Grealy -- let me tell you about her." It's this wonderful narrative that makes you want to keep reading and reading, even if you'd never heard of Lucy before (I hadn't), and it exposes you to yet another section of life you, hopefully, have not seen before.


Lucy assessed the pain of the body by the standards of her own experience and found that just about everyone else came up short, especially those on whom the ravages of illness could not be seen. She once became terribly jealous of a beautiful woman who had ovarian cancer because to Lucy the disease had done nothing but increase the woman’s glamour. “I wish I had ovarian cancer,” she said sullenly.

She's honest as far as I can tell, because she includes things both flattering and unflattering to Lucy and herself, and you learn about both of their personal histories. Was I thrilled to learn that Patchett had been a waitress at TGI Friday's after grad school? YES GOOD LORD YES. It's always a relief hearing that people you ASSUME were just plucked from school and instantly lauded had to wade through some shit and work their ass off to be appreciated.

It manages to be a book about a friendship without being overly saccharine or overtly "Friendship is the life preserver on the sea of existence." Lucy is one of those people where it's possible you had to meet her to appreciate her. Some people you read about and go "That person sounds FANTASTIC; why aren't we besties?" *coughcoughAnnPatchett* But Lucy is tough. Because of her constant surgeries and neediness, she sounds like the most draining of people, and reading about her and her friendship made me mostly just interested in how different everyone is and how we all respond in such varied ways to the people we meet in our lives.

Truth & Beauty is excellent. Read all the Ann Patchett you can.

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