This was my second time reading Truth and Beauty, having read it in one sitting years ago on the train from Manhattan to Vermont, and I have to say, I found Lucy and Ann much less likable in this second reading of the book. Lucy’s self-obsession gets really annoying around page 50 or so, and Ann’s total lack of personality pretty much drains from the beginning. And while there was still something admirable about their loyalty to each other, the co-dependency of their friendship seemed much sadder in this reading of the book.
What did you guys think? Did you envy their intimate friendship at all? I do envy parts of it. I envy the way they encourage one another to write and the comfort they share in each other’s company. But for the most part, their relationship left me feeling a little hollow. (Side note: check out Lucy’s memoir Autobiography of a Face for a different version of the same story). How do you think Lucy’s health struggles affected her friendship with Ann? Do you think they even would have been friends? I doubt it. I mean, I think they would have been acquaintances, but not confidantes — not like they were. Lucy wouldn’t have needed Ann like she did and Ann, in turn, wouldn’t have felt important in the world of someone so well-known, however localized Lucy’s celebrity was at the start of their friendship.
What did you think about the fact that Lucy had a twin sister whom she wasn’t terribly close to? Another sister, Suellen Grealy, wrote an article years ago that’s an interesting read. Of Truth and Beauty, she writes:
I wished that Ann would not publish the book. I admired and had defended her need to write as an artist, but I hoped she would finish it off, for herself, and put it under the bed. I’d have preferred her to work with a smaller publisher, one with less of a publicity machine than HarperCollins. That she’d ask for no publicity. I wanted her to wait until my mother was dead.
She felt it was her right, even her obligation, to write the book, and that it had to be HarperCollins because that was her publisher.
My sister Lucy was a uniquely gifted writer. Ann, not so gifted, is lucky to be able to hitch her wagon to my sister’s star. I wish Lucy’s work had been left to stand on its own.
Why is that memory so elusive? Because it is so precious? Because it is mine alone, one that I don’t have to share with the hundreds of thousands of total strangers who think they understand Lucy through Ann Patchett’s personal vantage point?
Truth & Beauty has enhanced Ann’s reputation as a writer, though many have questioned the speed with which she published it, and the validity of exposing Lucy’s frailties, not apparent in Autobiography Of A Face. I’m sorry I stood by as this happened.
My sister Sarah and I have been travelling too long in the land of grief, and we would like to come home, to prop our pictures on the mantelpiece and to get on with our lives. But there is the book: what can we do with a grief thief?
These quotes bring up an interesting idea about the ownership of memories when they’re shared in a public fashion. Most writers of creative nonfiction grapple with this issue — of the integrity of sharing what is essentially only one vantage point out of several in their memories. Even the memories of one person shift and change over the years, so, of course, one version on one person’s memory will differ from someone else’s. So what is the most ethical way to share your memories when the people who co-own them aren’t around to share their versions? What is ethical when your version of the memory affects surviving loved ones and the way they process their grief? Was Ann Patchett “right” in publishing this book? Did she owe Lucy’s family anything in return for “stealing their grief”? And to you think there’s any truth to the idea of Ann hitching her wagon to Lucy’s star, both while she was living and after she died?
And don’t forget: July’s book club selection is Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. You can buy the paperback version here and the Kindle version here.