Writer Ann Patchett always knew in an intellectual sense what a hard time her friend Lucy Grealy had confronting the world with a face disfigured by cancer and the horrific treatments that followed. But it may not have truly come home to her until she visited Lucy in Scotland, where she was having yet another complicated, ultimately unsuccessful reconstructive surgery. This time, the treatment had caused Lucy's face to swell like a balloon. And some of the local lads made no pretense at being polite. One of many incidental encounters with drunken louts: "They barked and screamed to be helped, rescued, saved. Save me from the dog girl!,' they cried . . . I let go of Lucy's arm and ran into them screaming, smacking, shoving blindly into all there was to hate." Lucy knew that all too many people saw her as a freak because of her appearance. It wounded her psyche, and helped lead to her early death from drug abuse in 2002. But she did have the creative talent to turn her experience into a successful memoir, Autobiography of a Face. And she had friends like Patchett, who has now memorialized Lucy in the lyrical, lovely Truth & Beauty.
Patchett, the author of Bel Canto and other critically acclaimed novels, met Lucy in college, but became her friend in the University of Iowa's famous creative writing program. Patchett describes herself as the careful ant and Lucy as the grasshopper too casual about sex, bills, booze, but always brilliant, always entertaining. They loved each other.
At first, they sustained one another through the typical travails of young writers, the scramble for grants, fellowships, contacts. But as Lucy's life spiraled out of control and Patchett's stabilized, Patchett found herself trying to save her friend. Inevitably, she failed. No one could have succeeded: Lucy lived in a vast cavern of loneliness.
Lucy was unable to finish any substantial writing after Autobiography, but Patchett liberally quotes her letters, all filled with insight and keen intelligence. Patchett has preserved her friend's talent in this book, and provided more evidence of her own.