Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy

(Finally getting around to reading some of the books I got at the book fair in early March.  Stupid library, distracting me.)

Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a Ewing’s sarcoma at the age of nine – at one point she reads about it and discovers it has a 5% survival rate.  After ages and ages having this sorted out, she is left with part of her jaw missing.  Later on she receives numerous grafts to sort this out, and these work for a while and then keep getting reabsorbed.  (I believe that’s how it worked – I’m fuzzy on medical things.)  Autobiography of a Face is about her struggles to deal with the cancer and its aftermath, and what they do to her, physically and emotionally.

Sadly, Lucy Grealy died at the age of 39.  Her close friend Ann Patchett, also a novelist, wrote a book about their friendship called Truth and Beauty, after Lucy died; and I’ve been meaning to read Autobiography of a Face ever since I read Truth and Beauty.  I slightly regret not reading them closer together, because I think it would have been more interesting that way.

Autobiography of a Face is beautifully, vividly written.  I know how difficult it is for adults to remember what it was like to be a kid, but Lucy Grealy captures her childhood incredibly well: her problems with organized school sports (ugh, that brought back memories), the feeling of importance she gets for being sick, the way she capitalizes on her sickness to get out of school as much as possible.  I loved the parts she wrote about her long hospital stays, playing games with the other kids in the hospital.  So interesting.  In spite of the fact that the book was about an experience I have never had, there was still a universality to it, the insecurity about her appearance, the fear of being unlovable.

Such a good book.  Highly recommended.

In other news, I was looking up Lucy Grealy on Wikipedia because I couldn’t remember how old she was when she died, and it turns out that her older sister was not best pleased by the publication of Truth and Beauty, because it made it difficult for her and her family to grieve over their sister privately.  As someone deeply troubled by memoirs and what you say about real people in a book, I have been thinking about it a lot.  I still can’t decide what I think about it.  I wonder what people who write memoirs do about this problem.

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