Not long after I read that book and experienced the feeling that I didn’t completely connect, I read a companion work. Truth & Beauty, by Ann Patchett, is a memoir reflecting on the writer’s friendship with Lucy Grealy.
I fell into this book completely. No reservations at all. And it did make me wonder if Grealy’s very difficult personality (personality disorder? and addictions) weren’t something that I picked up on and made me wary when I read Autobiography of a Face. It will be hard to go back and re-read that book as if I don’t know the extent of her “use and abuse” of Patchett.
Then, again, this book is Patchett’s version. Grealy is gone and can’t comment on it. She can’t write a “response memoir.” So why am I so willing to believe Patchett’s version, but hold myself at a distance from Grealy’s version of what is, in essence, her self?
Oh, this memoir business is a tough business.
What did I learn from this book? That the hard truth can be presented in beauty if it is accompanied by compassion.
Here’s a thought. I suspect I didn’t like Grealy from reading her book. The question would be: why not? Maybe it was her lack of compassion for others. I just didn’t see any at all. Would that be because she was born with a personality incapable of feeling compassion? Or would it be a learned response to life, based on her difficulties?
It’s easy to see why Patchett and Grealy were friends. Patchett had enough compassion for them both.
While I can’t say I didn’t enjoy reading it or sympathize with the girl who suffered so much, it didn’t affect me–reach me or touch me–the way it seems to affect most readers. I slightly pulled back from Grealy at times as I read the book. That’s kind of horrifying for me to think about because what happens to the young Grealy in the story is tragic: Grealy had cancer as a child and lost part of her jaw to the disease, growing up with a disfigured face.
Photo by Wikipedia
As I try to look through the book to give you an idea of why I felt lukewarm, I can’t find any clues–although it seems to me that the world through her eyes didn’t seem like a world I know or a way that I connect with the world. Skimming the book, I realize I need to read it again. Maybe it was me. I want to be fair. I want to be accurate. I’ll toss it on the pile of unread books!
What I learned from this book: sometimes you need to read a book more than once to understand how and why you respond the way you do. I want to learn more about what makes a book engaging or important to me.
Has anyone else read this book? If so, were you completely drawn in?
Stay tuned for Wednesday’s post where I share what I learned from Ann Patchett’s book about her friendship with Lucy Grealy!