Sunday, December 6, 2009

Autobiography of a Face, Truth and Beauty, and Suellen Grealy

What a treat to read these two books together over the weekend. Until I read Autobiography of A Face, I had no idea that the two were related, although I own them both. Autobiography of A Face describes Lucy Grealy's struggle with cancer at a young age, causing 30-something surgeries over her lifetime and leaving her with a disfigured face. Years after the book was published the author died of an accidental heroin overdose.
Ann Patchett, a close friend of Grealy's since they were roommates at grad school, later wrote a book, Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with Lucy Grealy. In the book she describes Lucy's neediness and consuming desire to be loved. The book is honest and reveals faults in both women, but is a beautiful portrait and friendship and devotion. Both books are beautifully written and moving.
Following the release of the book, Lucy's sister, Suellen Grealy, wrote an angry article in The Guardian regarding Ann's book. Suellen attacks Ann's portrayal of her sister as unfair and damagint to the family in their time of grief. Unfortunately, having to read both books, this article seems unfair to me. I must admit that I am a huge Patchett fan, so this may have colored my opinion, but it seemed to me that a large portion of Suellen's anger has nothing to do with Ann's book (the missing picture - which Ann did not take, the study guide questions regarding her mother in Lucy's book - which Ann did not write, etc). The worst part was her description of Ann as an inferior writer who was hitching her wagon to Lucy's star. What a bitter and obviously incorrect way to describe Patchett, who won a Pen/Faulkner Award as well as an Orange award for Bel Canto which was published while Lucy was still living.
I highly recommend both books, and it is fascinating to read them together if you are able to do so. Take a look at Suellen Grealy's article as well, for an interesting take on both books:(


  1. That's hilarious that you didn't know that they were related but ended up reading them together. It was meant to be.

    Both of them sound pretty amazing, actually. I've read several of Ann Patchett's books and have always loved how she writes.

    I'm requesting these from the library. Thanks for the reviews.

  2. Hi Julie

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  3. I, too, was struck by Suellen Grealy's catty reference to Ann Patchett's supposed inferiority as a writer, and it left a bad aftertaste for me.

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