Audio Books
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""Who Could That Be at This Hour?"3 Willows4th of July99 DaysA Beautiful MindA Change in AltitudeA Corner Of The UniverseA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA People's History of ChristianityA Question of BloodA Slight Trick of the MindA Step Toward FallingA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December Abraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesAfter DarkAgainst Medical AdviceAll the Bright PlacesAll the Way HomeAll Unquiet ThingsAlphavilleAmerica AmericaAmong the DepartedAn EducationAn Object of BeautyAnatomy of a MisfitAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaBad BoyBad RatsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeauty QueensBed of RosesBefore I DieBefore I FallBefore the FrostBig BrotherBiteBlack Elk SpeaksBlameBleed for MeBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBody SurfingBog ChildBoneMan's DaughtersBoomsdayBorder CrossingBorn Standing UpBoys Are DogsBoys Will Put You on a Pedestal (So They Can Look Up Your Skirt)Brava, ValentineBreak Through PainBreathingBridge of SighsBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBrutalBy BloodC StreetCalm Beneath the WavesCanadaCellCemetery DanceChange Your Brain, Change Your LifeCheeverCinnamon KissCleopatraClose Your EyesCompulsionCross CountryCyborgasmDakotaDancing at the Shame PromDarkest FearDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDead EvenDear Zoe,Death Without TenureDeceptionDefending JacobDefine NormalDeliriumDevil in the DetailsDiscovering Pig MagicDisturbing GroundDivergentDivine JusticeDivisaderoDoing ItDown the Rabbit HoleDr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody ToolkitDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDriftlessEven Dogs in the WildEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEye ContactFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFalling ManFamily FirstFans of the Impossible LifeFear of the DarkFellsideField of BloodFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFiregirlForest of the PygmiesFortunate SonFraudFreak the MightyFree RefillsFull Steam Ahead!Furiously HappyGenerosityGenomeGetting a Good Night's SleepGetting the Love You Want Audio CompanionGiftedGirl in TranslationGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoing BovineGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGraysonHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHarmlessHe's Just Not That Into YouHealthy AgingHeartbeatHeftHigh HeatHolidays on IceHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow Full Is Your Bucket?How Successful People ThinkHow to Build a HouseHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow to Set a Fire and WhyHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurt Go HappyHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenI Am Not Joey PigzaI Can See YouI Drink for a ReasonI Feel Bad About My NeckI'd Know You AnywhereIdiot AmericaIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf You StayImagine Me GoneIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestInheritanceInnocentInside the O'BriensInvincibleInvisibleIt Takes OneJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJust LifeKiss of Broken GlassKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Leaping BeautyLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife InterruptedLife of PiLife StrategiesLisey's StoryLitLittle Black LiesLittle ScarletLive For Your Listening PleasureLiving Your DreamLong Shadow of Small GhostsLooking for BobowiczLost in the ForestLove Is a Mix TapeLove Times ThreeLove, AubreyLowboyMadappleMade For YouMagical ThinkingMagnificenceMaliceMan in the WoodsMeditation in a New York MinuteMeetings with a Remarkable ManMiddlesexMind MappingMindfulness for BeginnersMirrorMaskMischlingMissing PresumedMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMommies Who DrinkMunich AirportMy AbandonmentMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Name Is RedMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Sister's KeeperName All the AnimalsNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNever Let Me GoNight FilmNina: AdolescenceNinety DaysNone of the AboveNurtureShockObjects of My AffectionOlive's OceanOn Chesil BeachOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOutliersPaint It BlackPanicParadise LodgeParanoiaPeace Is Every BreathPeople Who Eat DarknessPharmakonPictures of Hollis WoodsPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with FirePlease Stop Laughing at UsPositivityPresumed InnocentPretty Girl-13Prisoner of Night and FogPuddlejumpersPunkzillaReady for AnythingRebuttalRequiemRescueRevolutionary RoadRoomRun for Your LifeSay You're SorryScatSchool of FearSeason to TasteSecrets of a Passionate MarriageSee How SmallSeeds of HopeSex and SpiritSide Effects May VarySilencedSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSleeping BeautySnowSo Brave, Young and HandsomeSolitaireSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSourlandSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkStill MissingStory of a GirlStress ReliefSupreme CourtshipSurviving OpheliaSwimming to ElbaSworn to SilenceSymptoms of Being HumanTeaseTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTen Minutes to RelaxTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe Abortionist's DaughterThe AccidentalThe Accidental BillionairesThe AdultsThe Almost MoonThe Anatomy of HopeThe Art of ChoosingThe Art of Exceptional LivingThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Average American MarriageThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe Beat Goes OnThe Best AwfulThe Big LoveThe Boat RockerThe Book of JoeThe Book of LiesThe Book of the DeadThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Brass VerdictThe Breakout PrincipleThe Burden of ProofThe Case for GodThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe Chosen OneThe ClosersThe Consciousness PlagueThe Conspiracy ClubThe Cuckoo's CallingThe Day I Ate Whatever I WantedThe Dead Fathers ClubThe Death of Bunny MunroThe Devotion of Suspect XThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Diviner's TaleThe Dressmaker of Khair KhanaThe Dynamite RoomThe Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe Erotic EdgeThe Essential KamasutraThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Forgotten GirlsThe Geography of You and MeThe Gift of an Ordinary DayThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Guy Not TakenThe Heart of YogaThe Heretic's DaughterThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Kings of LondonThe Language God TalksThe Language of SecretsThe Language Of YogaThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Male BrainThe Man from BeijingThe Man in My BasementThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Map of True PlacesThe Marriage PlotThe Memory Book The Mermaids SingingThe Ministry of Special CasesThe MuralistThe Museum of InnocenceThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Myth of LazinessThe NarrowsThe Necessary Death of Lewis WinterThe New YorkersThe NewleywedsThe NixThe NursesThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Other Side of the StoryThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe PastThe Penultimate PerilThe PostcardThe Pregnant WidowThe Promise of a LieThe PyramidThe Qi Healing KitThe ReaderThe Republican BrainThe Rule of FourThe Rules of SurvivalThe Savage CityThe ScarecrowThe Second GirlThe Secret Life of BeesThe Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret ScriptureThe Secret SpeechThe Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe ShallowsThe Shock of the FallThe Silent BoyThe SisterThe Sound of Broken GlassThe SpindlersThe Story HourThe Story of Beautiful GirlThe Sudden Arrival of ViolenceThe Survivors ClubThe Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Tenth JusticeThe Thing About JellyfishThe Third AngelThe TouristThe Treasure Map of BoysThe Trouble with Goats and SheepThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe View from SaturdayThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weight of the NationThe Whole TruthThe WilloughbysThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves of AndoverThe Words We Live ByThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsThe Yin Yoga KitThirteen Reasons WhyThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Full HouseThis Is HowThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadTony & SusanToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTransformation TriburbiaTrue BelieverTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTwinmakerTwistedTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnder WildwoodUnlessUnthinkingUp in the AirVery ValentineVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWalkingWarWatching the DarkWhat the Dog SawWhen We Were AnimalsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWherever You Go, There You AreWhite HotWild AwakeWild ChildWildwoodWill They Ever Trust Us Again?Wolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetYoga SanctuaryYou Look Different in Real LifeYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know Me

Related Topics
Truth & BeautyReview - Truth & Beauty
A Friendship
by Ann Patchett
HarperAudio, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jun 18th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 25)

Truth & Beauty is a memoir by fiction author Ann Patchett of her friendship with poet and memoirist Lucy Grealy. It starts with her ride up to the Iowa's Writer's Workshop where she will share an apartment with Grealy and finished with Grealy's death from an overdose of heroin. What made Grealy special was her physical appearance caused by her having Ewing's Sarcoma at age 9, and series of reconstructive surgeries to repair the missing part of her lower jaw. The story tells of their different struggles and successes, their wonderful intimacy of their 20-year relationship, and Patchett's readiness to stand by her friend as Grealy suffered from despair, loneliness, many more surgeries, and finally, addiction. Both of them became successful authors, Patchett with her novel Bel Canto and Grealy with her memoir Autobiography of a Face. Patchett achieved a happy marriage and Grealy had many lovers and a strong social network. Grealy's final decline came about as a foolish decision to get an experimental surgery taking bone from her fibula to use in her jaw. She was in terrible pain for months after the surgery and as a result she became heavily reliant on painkillers, and this led to her use of powerful street drugs such as heroin. Driven by her depression, her use of drugs became out of control and it eventually killed her. When Patchett finally got the phone call telling her of Grealy's death, she wasn't surprised.

It is a well-told tale. Grealy is a strong character and both she and Patchett lead very full lives. The audiobook lasts 8.5 hours, and it goes quickly. It is read by Patchett herself, and she does a remarkable job. Most authors are uninspired performers of their works, and audiobooks tend to be far more gripping when performed by actors. Patchett however is as good as any actor in bringing her words to life. Through the memoir, one gets a clearer idea of the life of a young writer and the current literary scene.

However, at the heart of the memoir is a profoundly moral question of how to understand Grealy's behavior and character. Time and time again, Grealy behaves in ways that would appear to most as self-centered, needy, manipulative, and arrogant. The first mention of Grealy in the book provides a good example. She got a note from Grealy explaining that she had been disappointed to hear that Patchett had also been accepted into the Iowa's Writer's Workshop because she had wanted to be the only person there from the college they both attended, Sarah Lawrence. But Grealy had changed her opinion when she had learned that Patchett was going up to Iowa City to find an apartment, because she was unable to afford to make the trip, and she requested that Ann locate a cheap apartment for her. Patchett goes on to explain that she had known of Grealy all the way through their time at college, but on the several occasions Ann had attempted to be friendly, she was rebuffed with a blank stare by Lucy. Once Patchett arrived at Iowa City, however, Grealy made her her best friend and the two were initially inseparable.

There's no question that Grealy did love Ann in her friendship, so her use of her friend was not cold and calculating. Rather, her attitude seems uncalculating and bare in its command for those who love her to serve her needs. Although she was a virgin when she left college, Grealy soon found people to have sex with in Iowa City and proceeded to have many affairs. But she never had a lasting and reliable relationship: many of the men she was with were married, or were just coming out of long-term relationships. Sometimes it was simply casual sex. So the romantic love she received from men was never long-lasting or sustaining. Grealy made demands on many of her friends, in terms of time, money, and love. When Ann made a new firm friendship later in her life with another woman, Grealy insisted on being told, in front of the new friend, that Patchett loved her, Lucy, more.

Patchett forgives all Grealy's extreme behavior. There were many reasons to forgive and to be understanding. Grealy had so many medical problems, had gone through such a painful childhood, and suffered from so many difficulties with men. She had no family support whatsoever. Over and above these extenuating circumstances, there was the positive fact that the two women had a friendship of exceptional intensity. When they in different places, even when Grealy was living in Scotland, they wrote letters frequently, sometimes twice a day. Patchett felt a fierce loyalty to her friend, and would make great sacrifices for her. One time when she was visiting Lucy in Aberdeen, they were taunted in the street by a group of drunk men, and Patchett rushed into them shouting and fighting, which thankfully amused them rather than angered them. In the love of friendship, one makes sacrifices for each other.

The worry is that the friendship was so one-sided. When Patchett was feeling depressed and sorry for herself and wanted consolation from her friend, all Grealy said was "you'll be fine." Of course, she turned out to be correct, to the extent that Patchett has achieved success and personal stability. Grealy was equally sure that she would not be fine, and she was constantly worried that she would never have sex again, she would be unloved by a man, and that she would never achieve literary success. Aristotle argued that true friendship must between equals, two men of virtue. Although the two women may have had comparable literary talent, it is harder to compare their virtue, because Grealy's medical problems and her past life make her circumstances so different. She endured things that Patchett and most other people never have to cope with -- the stares of people in the street, dozens of surgeries, real fears that she looked repulsive. So maybe Grealy had amazing courage and spirit to keep on going. She certainly had charisma; wherever she lived, everyone knew her and she would be hailed warmly by apparent strangers. At the same time, she suffered from excruciating self-doubt. What's more, it is not clear from Patchett's account whether Grealy had the capacity to really care for other people, just as she often seemed to lack the capacity to care for herself. Indeed, she was often gratuitously inconsiderate for the feelings of her friends.

It is striking that Patchett finally started to draw a line with her friend when Grealy started to be more actively self-destructive, such electing to go in for a risky and damaging surgery and putting aside all her other priorities such as finishing the novel she was working on. At the end of her life, she became even more desperate and inconsolable, and once she started using drugs, she may have made herself impossible to be helped. Her friends got her to sign in to a psychiatric ward, partly with an implicit threat to get her signed in involuntarily if she refused. She was seeing a psychiatrist. Ultimately, however, it wasn't enough, and on one of the occasions when she took dangerous quantities of drugs, it killed her.

The moral question is not whether Patchett should have made such large sacrifices for her friend, or whether she could have done more to help her at the end. She did what she could, and she certainly did more than could be reasonably expected. The question raised by Truth & Beauty is more whether this was an admirable friendship, whether we should be pleased for her, whether we should encourage other people, including our children, to have such friendships. But how can we address such a question? It certainly does not help much to try and calculate whether it gave more pleasure than pain, more gains than losses. Maybe it is too individual an issue to simply give a straightforward general answer to. Maybe each person has to think for him or herself "yes, I would want that" or "no, I could never have that sort of friendship."

If we are to try to think about this friendship at a more general level, we might link it to questions of caring relationships. Parents tend to make many more sacrifices for their children than children do for their parents. When a member of a family has a chronic illness or a disability, it often happens that other family members or close friends end up doing much of the work of caring. Lucy Grealy had a chronic medical problem with her jaw and she certainly had psychiatric problems at the end of her life. Some might speculate she struggled with depression and anxiety for much of her life, and the difficulty she had in forming a long-term relationship with a man was linked as much to a personality problem as to her appearance. Such diagnoses are questionable enough when the person can be thoroughly examined and tested, and they are largely useless once the person is dead. What is pretty clear is that Grealy was troubled and needy for much of her life. For her to form a profound loving relationship with another person, it is likely that the other person would have to do most of the caring.

Caring for others is potentially enriching, especially when it involves really helping and nurturing. But it can be extremely draining and it can mean putting one's own life, one's personal ambitions, on hold while the other person takes priority. Often it is wives and mothers who end up doing caring work, and Patchett's story fits in with a tradition of other stories of caring even though in her case the relationship is simply friendhship. As a society, we are certainly better off when people choose to do such caring, but the danger is that it becomes the role of a certain part of society, most likely the women. In Patchett's case, she chose to care for her friend and even though in some ways it seems that Grealy was manipulative, ultimately Patchett was free to extract herself from the relationship if she wanted. Her caring remained her choice, and indeed, there came a point where she decided she could not do more.

Truth & Beauty is a powerful story not so much because of its details of the literary life or even Patchett's lucid way with words, but because it makes us think about friendship and caring. It does not provide answers, but it at least raises penetrating questions.

 

2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7700 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716