Truth & Beauty: A Review

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This is the perfect photo for this book. I always read Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett on lunch breaks, but what I really wanted to do was sit on a porch somewhere, with a glass of wine, on a lazy summer afternoon and think and cry and laugh and ponder. This book is crazy amounts of beautiful and as a writer (Are you a writer? You need to pick up this book.) it especially touched me deep down in my feels. As someone with best friends, it totally spoke to me and made me think about our friendship and, honestly, made me think about how I would write the memoir of our friendship, how I would paint each of them.

This book is incredibly intimate. I’m so excited to find out what other people thought.

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This is Carrie (also known as cransell in comments!), I have known her via the internets since 2010ish and have very much enjoyed getting to know her. She is one of the kindest and wisest people I’ve ever experienced. Whenever she comments here I am thrilled to see what she has to say. One day I will meet her and hug her until it gets awkward. She writes at Somewhat Bookish where you can go and see more photos of her adorable kiddo and read about her making her own ice cream (you live a charmeed life Carrie!!). [Edit: It is ALSO Carrie’s birthday today too!! Birthday TWINS, doing the same book review ON THEIR BIRTHDAY!]

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This is Kathleen! Who is also one of my best friends AND who is turning 30 today! Happy Birthday Kathleen!! We had many, many classes together senior year of high school and she always read all of the books in AP American Lit faster than I did. We would sometimes read during lunch and she was always a hundred pages ahead of me no matter how much I tried to speed read. She reads more than anyone I know (well… Maris is probably neck and neck) and always inspires me to keep reading, even when I am tired, even when I am busy. When it comes to books Kathleen has probably read more than anyone who reads this blog. It’s impressive.

Carrie: I was excited when I found out what book I was assigned – I’ve read one book by Ann Patchett (State of Wonder) and really loved it, and I’m generally a fan of memoirs.

Kathleen: Initially I was bummed that this was a nonfiction book.  I don’t usually read nonfiction and therefore I was somewhat hesitant.  However, after looking up the book and realizing that it was by an author whose fiction I enjoyed I was interested and excited to give some nonfiction a try.  After beginning the book I was immediately pulled into the story as well as the characters and forgot about the book being nonfiction or fiction. 

Carrie: Patchett writes beautifully of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. We should all be so lucky to have such a loving and supportive friendship in our life.

Lauren: It was so remarkably selfless, wasn’t it Carrie? Like shockingly selfless.

Kathleen: The book follows the lives, and writing careers of the author and one of her best friends.  The book begins when they meet in college and continues throughout their lives.  The life events of the author are the basis for the plot, but the dynamics the women’s friendship, their relationships with others, as well as their own, separate personalities, life events and histories are shared in the writing.  

Carrie: [In response to my question about themes] Friendship, pretty obviously, but also the nature of writing, of fame, of loneliness and need. Patchett’s writing is what sucked me in. I just love to read it. Even if you aren’t familiar with Grealy, it’s clear from the dedication of the book, that she has died, so I was expecting to cry, and read it pretty slowly, but the structure worked well for that. It was easy to read a chapter and then put it down for a few days, without losing my interest in the book. I also really found Patchett’s discussion of her writing process interesting. I’m not a writer, but it was interesting to think about writing as art and writing as your life’s work (and the overlap of that or not).

Kathleen: The author’s best friend is charismatic, and unique.  She is one of the main reasons that the book was so interesting to read.  She is a complex person that greatly impacts and shapes the life of the author during the book.  Wanting to find out what was happening with her, and how her life would progress drew me into the story a lot.  I finished the book within days of beginning it; partly because of the quality of the writing and partly because of the speed of the story and my attachment early on to the people in the story itself.

The theme of friendship is strong in the book as is loyalty.  The author and her friend are tied together through the length of their friendship by the deep loyalty they have for one another as well as a sort of dependency that they have on each other.  There were times in the book that I wished the author would walk away from her friendship but she never choose to do so.

Lauren: The behind the scenes into the world of authors, of writers, of celebrated writers was intoxicating for me. And heart breaking. And was part of the reason why I wrote this blog post. And on top of all of that it also felt like it was telling a certain part of my own story. The experience they had with their MFA was similar to mine in the way it felt. I didn’t go to Iowa and my set up was different (I worked full time, I was in San Francisco, etc) but I have never heard or seen or read anything that even came close to explaining how I feel about what I do, how those years felt to me, etc. And this book came incredibly close.

The friendship, too, was just so real and honest. I have 3 best friends, Kathleen being one of them, and I often find that most people just do not understand how close we are, how they truly are my family, and how without them part of my identity would be lost. I would be wandering. At this point they are tied up into who I am. That doesn’t fit the archetype of what friendship is in the modern world. It doesn’t hold up to what we see on TV. Friendship now seems to be out of convenience, and once the person becomes a burden you kick ’em to the curb to a certain extent. It was really lovely to see an intimate relationship play out that was based in friendship, not rom-com roots.

Carrie: There weren’t any holes for me, it think Patchett really succeeded in telling the story of a friendship (rather than of either of them as individuals).

Kathleen: I found the author very successful in telling the story.  I was immediately drawn into the story and finished it quickly.  I appreciated the length of time that was covered in the story and felt that the author’s decision to start and end the story where she did were good choices.  I was moved by the story and both cried and laughed at different moments.  When books bring me to emote emotions aloud I know that that author is doing their job well!

Carrie: For some reason, I expected that Lucy had died of a recurrence of a cancer, so how she died surprised me. I made an effort not to learn anything more about Lucy Grealy after I started the book, and to instead just let the story unfold.

Kathleen: The book itself did not surprise me, but I was intrigued by the books ability to bring out questions about my own longtime friendships.  I wondered about the strong dependency of the friends on each other, even when one or both of them were otherwise engaged in deep, strong relationships.  I don’t know how much I can say without giving away the intricacies of the friendship described in the book, but I didn’t always feel that the friendship was beneficial for the author, and I then related this to my own life experiences. 

Carrie: I really liked the book and I would totally recommend it. Definitely one of my favorites of the year so far. People who like memoirs or beautiful writing should read this. It’s a very accessible read – not long or dense, so I think a wide range of folks might like it.

Kathleen: I really enjoyed reading this book, and I would recommend this book to others.  As a reader of primarily fiction I felt that this book read much like other books by Ann Patchett. The book didn’t stand out to me as nonfiction, and I liked that about it.  I think that if you like Ann Patchett’s other fiction writing you will like this book and vice versa.  The story line of the book was fast moving, easy to follow and interesting to read.  The characters were vivid and real to the reader and when I had finished reading I was satisfied with all that I read and where the author choose to leave the story.  As a whole this was a worthwhile and enjoyable read!

Lauren: This has easily become my favorite book of the book list so far. Right up there with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Up to this point screw all of the other books, this one blows them out of the water. 

Have you read this book? It was actually suggested in one of the old book list creating posts over a year ago so I thought I would stick it in the list this time, so some of you must have!

What do you think about the modern take on friendships? Do you have any bosom buddies? Tell me about this book, your friends, all of it.

 

13 thoughts on “Truth & Beauty: A Review”

  1. OMG I LOVED THIS BOOK. I came across it randomly years ago, and give it to everyone as a must-read. I actually love her non-fiction writing so much more than her fiction and have been dying to read her This is a Story of a Happy Marriage.

      1. Aw! You guys! (I totally missed this post on my birthday and am so embarrassed to be behind). I can’t wait to meet you guys too. I’m sure it will happen some day!!

  2. I really loved this book when I read it for a memoir class in college. I would recommend also reading Grealy’s book “Autobiography of a Face” if you found her character compelling, as it sort of fleshes out her side of things. (Although I will say I did not enjoy it as much as Patchett’s book.)

    1. Ooooo interesting yes, especially as an interesting follow up bc we see how that book came to be in this one. I LOVE THAT. Although, I can see how Grealy might be a little rough to read knowing what we know from this book.

      1. It’s an autobiography, so all Grealy is talking about is her own life. (If I remember correctly, Patchett isn’t mentioned much at all in it. A lot of it is about her childhood.) It has none of the wonderful richness on friendship and writing. But it would be an awesome follow up read for this bloggy book series!

        1. Was just coming here to say the same thing — I think reading the two back-to-back is a really good overall picture, and I found it really interesting that Grealy *doesn’t* bring up her friendship with Patchett as much in her book (and true, it’s not the focus, but still). I found Patchett’s book to be lovely, and I found Grealy’s to be gut-wrenching. Both are so good.

  3. Oh I’m excited to read this review! I just started “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage” this morning! I loved Bel Canto and State of Wonder (but didn’t love Run) and even though I’m normally a little hesitant about nonfiction, I love that Kathleen said, “As a reader of primarily fiction I felt that this book read much like other books by Ann Patchett.” …so it looks like this will be my next read from Ann Patchett! Happy!

  4. I read this book a few years ago. I love Bel Canto and Ann Patchett in general and mostly loved this book. It was the first time I read something that took friendship as seriously as a romance, which was so moving. My favorite tumblr in the world is Slaughterhouse 90210, and it just recently included one my favorite quotes from Truth and Beauty:

    “Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.”

    Which is just such a PERFECT way of describing friendship/intimacy, it gets me every time.

    1. Oooo I’m so glad you’ve read this! We need to chat about this more! And there are so many good quotes in it. I particularly like the section on abortion. How she says “Get up right now or you’ll be getting up for the rest of your life.” And then explains how relief turned into socially pressured guilt.

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