Truth & Beauty

Every so often, I read a book that changes my life. It happened with Anil’s Ghost. It happened with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With Weight and Girl Meets Boy and Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five.

And it happened with this book, Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett. Not that I doubted it. This was the book that I was supposed to read this month, recommended by Fae. She read it a few months ago and she kept telling me “This book is about us.”

So I read it. The extent of how it’s changed me remains to be decided, but now I feel like there was no time before when I hadn’t read it. It’s like when you hear that perfect song for the first time and you think to yourself “Of course this songs exists,” and it’s as if it always existed in your life, because it’s always been part of you and you just didn’t know it.

Of course this book exists. And it exists as part of me, because it’s story echoes my own. In a way. I’m not a cancer survivor, a heroine addict or suicidal. But this book isn’t about all of those things - it’s about friendship. It’s about two best friends, each other’s other half, separated by distance and pain and loneliness and life. And it chronicles their friendship. It’s all so similar to my relationship with Fae.

Because of that, this book wasn’t just about my experience with it, it’s about both of ours. And so, a lot of the things I’ve thought about this book, and believe me I’ve been thinking about it since the moment I started reading it two days ago, are to keep between me and my Faerie. I wrote her a series of handwritten letters, which I mailed her, with my reactions to it as I read it.


But there’s lots still to talk about. Truth & Beauty is a memoir of a friendship between two writers, Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy. They met in college, and later at a writer’s workshop, and their intense friendship lasted years, during most of which they lived in different cities or even countries.

I don’t usually like nonfiction, but I’m beginning to think that memoirs may be the exception. They don’t read like nonfiction, they’re compelling stories which just happen to be true - a fact that adds a certain sadness to the events.

Truth & Beauty carried me through a storm of emotions, from anger to love to desperation, sadness, annoyance. I reacted to all of these things, to the events in the pages. But I still have a lot of thinking to do to find out what it all means to me. That’s why I know this book has changed me. I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

I’m going to try to pick some of my favourite quotes, but in truth I have nearly every page earmarked.

“Everything he say is insane, it’s absolutely clear and I’m sure of it, but then he’ll say one thing that is so completely true that it undoes m. The true thing catches you off guard, and then everything starts to unravel and you think about all the insane things he said and you start to wonder if maybe they were true too and maybe you just didn’t want to believe it.”

“‘I write,’ I said.

‘Sure you do. Everyone does. You have some little story in your head that you’re going to get around to. This town is full of those people. I see them come in wanting to be writers and winding up as waitresses. The Workshop practically manufactures waitresses. What makes you think you’re going to be different from anybody else? Are you different? Are you special?’”

“What she wanted was love, and the best way to go looking for it was through sex. But it never worked that way, and the sex just made her lonelier. I understood that, as it had made me lonelier too. I couldn’t ever remember being lonely before, certainly not in this way, until I had seen the edge of all the ways that person could never be there for you.”

“Our friendship was like our writing in some ways. It was the only thing that was interesting about our otherwise very dull lives. We were better off when we were together. Together we were a small society of ambition and high ideals We were tender and patient and kind. We were not like the world at all.”

“But Lucy has been alone too much of her life and in her loneliness she has constructed a vision of what a perfect relationship would look like. Love, in her imagination, was so dazzling, so tender and unconditional, that anything human seemed impossibly thin by comparison. Lucy’s loneliness was breathtaking in its enormity… Lucy thought that all she needed was one person, the right person, and all the empty space would be taken away from her. But there was no one in the world who was big enough for that.”

Amazing book.


  • By Faebala, May 21, 2009 @ 9:29 am

    I got teary-eyed, reading this. I always think about how gorgeous the book is (and my entire book is filled with dog-ears and pencil underlines), but reading the actual quotes from it again just reminds me how breathtaking it is. I’m so glad you loved it. Not that I didn’t expect you not to. I knew you’d get exactly what it is that makes it incredible.

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