Friday, August 4, 2017

Patron saint of Lucy Grealy

Whether Truth & Beauty, Ann Patchett's memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, another writer, makes her look like a saint or a fool readers must decide for themselves. But then saints often look like fools, and fools, if you watch the movie Being There, sometimes look like saints.

Lucy Grealy
Patchett and Grealy went to college together but didn't actually become friends until they both showed up at the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1985, Patchett an aspiring novelist, Grealy an aspiring poet. They ended up sharing an apartment together and becoming devoted friends. The friendship continued for nearly two decades, even after Patchett settled in Nashville and Grealy, an Ireland native, moved to New York City.

Yet it was never an equal friendship. From the beginning Patchett was the giver and Grealy the taker.

Grealy, who died from a drug overdose at the age of 39, underwent nearly 40 operations in her short life because of a facial disfigurement caused by cancer of the jaw. Even though her vibrant personality resulted in more friends and lovers than most other women could imagine, she became dependent upon Patchett to reassure her constantly that, yes, she was loved and, however her ever-changing face happened to look at the moment, she would have sex again.

Ann Patchett
At one time Grealy was the more famous of the pair. "I was famous for being with her," Patchett writes. Her friend wrote a fictionalized memoir called Autobiography of a Face, which became a best seller and led to television interviews in which she wowed audiences. But then, despite a handsome book contract, she could write nothing, while Patchett began turning out one novel after another, beginning with The Patron Saint of Liars.

Never able to manage money, nor anything else, Grealy gave no thought to paying her mounting medical bills, and she would just move to another apartment whenever her landlord became too demanding. Patchett, or some other friend, was always there to help her out and take care of her after those frequent surgeries. At one point Patchett even offered to write her novel for her.

Eventually Grealy became addicted to painkillers, then resorted to harder drugs, all the while insisting she was not an addict. She died in 2002, and Patchett's book came out in 2004.

I vote for saint.

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