Sometimes reading a memoir of a difficult life is like observing the proverbial car crash. Readers sometimes want to close the book, but they cannot look away. One such memoir is Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. Ms. Grealy tells the story of how her childhood diagnosis and treatment for jaw cancer and the resulting disfigurement of her face came to define her.
The book stays with readers not just because of the subject and the grueling descriptions of medical procedures at such a young age, but also because the author is such a talented writer. A poet and a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, Grealy writes honestly and without self-pity. She also explores the rejection that accompanies physical imperfection. If the book sounds depressing, it can be, but it is also exhilarating. It is unlike any other memoir and the dignity that author displays is profound.
An additional aspect of Grealy is that her best friend and roommate from college was the bestselling author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto and State of Wonder). In Truth and Beauty: A Friendship Patchett details the tumultuous 17 year relationship of the two best friends. Both unique memoirs are on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library.
Patchett’s observations about Grealy’s quirky, powerful and sometimes self-destructive personality and Grealy’s ability to both triumph over and give into adversity are often as harrowing as the events in Autobiography of a Face. From Truth and Beauty the reader also finds out how and why Grealy died at such an early age. Reading both books, in any order, is an astonishing literary experience.