Donna Everhart

Lucy Grealy

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.


6 thoughts on “Lucy Grealy”

  1. Poetry is something i know nothing about. I had given up trying to pretend i had some insight into the difference between good poetry and garbage. In 2010, I wwas reading the NY Times obits. A woman—41 or 42 something like that–had comitted suicide. The obituuary included the lines of her poem “Sakura Park.” I read that and i was absolutely hooked. I looked at pictures of the author, Rachel Wetzsteon, and she is not particularly attractive. I can see that maybe during her early years she was considered the opposite. Shhe doesn’t bare her soul in her writing, as has been said of other poets, but gives us glimpses. Throw those in withh her photogrraphs. Add to it the feeling that I wish I could have talked to her the night before she took her life. I would’ve said, “Rachel, you are so breathtakingly beautiful.”

    1. Poetry isn’t my thing – well, not yet anyway, I’m sure there’s room for change. Poetry for me is like religion. It’s something I wish I could participate in and appreciate to the fullest extent, and not act like I’m pretending, you know?

      I hear you about what you would have said. After reading Lucy Grealy’s autobiography, I was sad because her voice was silenced and I wondered what sort of person she’d be today. She was that proverbial tortured soul. Reading Ann Patchett’s account of her, she seemed very needy, but very loving.

  2. Hey Jennine…you really ought to read the other one too that I mention above. You will love Lucy Grealy’s book, – well, at least I did – but OMG – Truth and Beauty puts you right into their relationship and you get to know so much more about Lucy and how she was as a person. Either way, when you get done, I’d sure like to hear what you thought about it. I’ll keep my opinions to myself for now! :>)

  3. I’d read Autobiography Of A Face first….(at least that’s the way I did it..) and I think that would still be the right order given the different ways the stories are told…also, I loved that Ann Patchett gave a little insight as well on publishing and what she and Lucy were dealing with at the time…

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