Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett – a book review

English: Close-up view of wing of Citrus swall...

English: Close-up view of wing of Citrus swallowtail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett.This is the third book by Ann Patchett that I have read.The first two books, Bel Canto and Run, were fiction. Truth and Beauty is non-fiction and a semi-memoir. All of these were selections read in book groups. Typically, Patchett’s stories do not grab my imagination right off the bat, but I have gained a greater appreciation of her work after each book club discussion of them – a real benefit of reading and discussing books with others. Having had a slow start with her other books, I was expecting the same to happen with Truth and Beauty, but this was not the case at all; I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated this book from the beginning. It is a story about the long friendship between two women, Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy, as they attend college together, pursue writing careers, and build their lives. This is a common enough premise for a storyline, yes, but both these women are serious about becoming writers, and one of them is the metaphorical ‘ant’, while the other is a physically challenged, highly charismatic and extroverted ‘grasshopper’; there-in lies an amazing story of love.

The author is not the main character in the book (which I call a semi-memoir), but is the window through whom we see Lucy, a physically and emotionally injured character whose life has enough mind-boggling events for three books. (In fact, Lucy Grealy had a highly successful memoir of her own, ” Autobiography of a Face” http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/534255.Autobiography_of_a_Face).

Ann and Lucy keep up a steady stream of letters over the years, filled with tales of relationships, literature, art, manuscript rejections, surgeries, waitressing and writing. At one point in the book, Patchett  was at her mother’s home reading correspondence from Lucy, sorting through them to throw some away. Patchett’s mother advises her daughter to save all of Lucy’s letters.”Someday you’ll both be famous writers,” she says.”And these letters will be very important to you.” Good advice, Mom. Patchett skillfully uses the letters as the framework for this wonderfully written book. (My favorite salutation in a letter from Lucy to Ann: Dearest Anngora, my cynical pirate of the elusive heart,my self winding watch, my showpiece,my shoelace, how are you?)

I was intrigued by the book’s title, but I don’t think Truth and Beauty was chosen with a nod to Aquinas’s theological development of “truth,beauty and goodness”, since the only reference to theology/philosophy that I could find in the book is Patchett’s high school interpretation of ‘salvation’. Still, Ann’s adolescent “work/s will save you” thinking did her no harm, and probably kept Patchett on a more positive pathway in her adult years. It likely had something to do with her remaining a faithful friend to Lucy, too.
One thing I enjoyed about the book is the inside view of the challenges of the writing life – no easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy careers for writers, friends, just continuous effort, and unending submissions/rejections for years and years – a definite reality check for anyone considering a writing career. BUT – both of the women did experience success eventually. Lesson to hopeful authors: keep writing.

This book has changed my mind about author Ann Patchett. I will no longer delegate her work as ‘book club only’ offerings and will look forward to purchasing and reading her next book on my own.

Final thoughts on this book in < 140 characters – Women,college students,aspiring writers and those with talented but heart-breaking friends:read this book.

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