I get a lot of ideas for what books to read in a number of ways. One is following the blog of agent, Betsy Lerner. The suggestions come along by chance, either through a particular post or in the comments area. For instance, Ms. Lerner puts out a daily post about a variety of topics relating to writing, publishing, etc which are usually followed by a question. She has enabled comments on her site, so her followers get to jump in and add their two cents. Recently she posted about a Jewish holiday and how she had attended the service, and somewhere in there she said she “I thought of Lucy Grealy.”
Well, like I have to do a lot of times when reading her blog, I “Googled” Lucy Grealy’s name as I had no idea who she was. It just so happens that Lucy Grealy wrote a memoir, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE. I found myself looking the book up on Amazon and once I read the description, it immediately captured my attention. And then it was like a chain reaction. After I put it in my “cart,” I looked at the recommendations. (You know how Amazon works, you add something to your cart and the site will automatically suggest another item to go along with your selection – like a menu at a fine restaurant, suggesting which wine might be best suited to your meal.)
The next book I picked was by Ann Patchett, called TRUTH AND BEAUTY, which is also a memoir and is about her friendship with Lucy Grealy. Now, I’ve become an Ann Patchett fan, and I’m going out to buy THE PATRON SAINT OF LIARS and maybe BEL CANTO.
The thing is, Lucy Grealy’s life story as told in THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE appears to have been misinterpreted by many who read the book. Ms. Grealy touched on this when she discussed doing readings, and the fact that most who attended took the book to be a personal story about dealing with cancer, treatments, and the physical pain of it all.
That wasn’t what she intended the memoir to be, and it frustrated her that this fact was missed by many who read it. It was about her emotional pain and how her face had defined her life. It was about how she dealt with what we would today call bullying, her classmates perception of her and who she was as a person, not only before, but afterwards – all because of the way she looked. She continually hoped to be transformed by the vast number of surgeries that followed her treatments into someone who could be beautiful, who could be loved.
She pointed out that she had not understand what any of it meant physically, much less emotionally. But after some time, after every new surgery, she held on to the hope that THIS surgery would finally be her chance at a new life. She wanted a transformation into the person she was on the inside because she felt she wasn’t accurately reflected on the outside.
What I have learned is that although THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE is very well written, a beautiful account of a woman who felt defined by her face, still, when I closed the book, I don’t know that I felt like I knew Lucy Grealy – other than she thought her appearance was her only identity. That’s where Ann Patchett’s book comes in. I haven’t finished it yet, but TRUTH AND BEAUTY seems aptly named and something tells me both words will ultimately apply to Lucy Grealy.