I see I taste I write Links What?
February 4, 2007

Truth & Beauty

Ann Patchett – ISBN - 978-0060572150

“A work every bit as entrancing, daring, and smart as her fiction . . . Truth and Beauty is a bravura self-portrait, and a stunning and insightful interpretation of an epic friendship. . . . A generous and virtuoso performance.” So says the Atlanta Urinal and Constipation.

I’ll admit that it is a stunning book—well written, insightful, infinitely readable and very soul searching. The principal protagonists herein are fast friends from college days. The first is the author and the other is Lucy, an incredibly damaged soul who has endured a life so tragic that one is hard-put to make any sort of judgment. All behavior is admissible and excusable it would seem.

Sorely disfugured from age 10 as a result of a malignant tumor of the jaw, she is the subject of mutilating surgery necessitating nearly forty “corrective” operations over her too short lifetime, ended by an accidental (?) overdose of heroin.

Both are writers, both talented, both sensitive souls surrounded by myriad other similar personages, all of whom “support” Lucy over the years. Lucy depends upon Ann (the author) for everything from soul support to money, while Ann depends upon Lucy to aggrandize her need to be helpful and gratified. The memoir chronicles many of the author’s reactions to and interactions with her best friend. Others of Lucy’s support group enter and leave the picture, a sort of relay team, individually frustrated by Lucy’s demands, and periodically on the outs, but never at the same time.

The underlying metaphor is that of the fable of The Grasshopper and the Ant. Lucy is the grasshopper, her acolytes the ants. Lucy, pathetic as she is, manages to have a modestly fulfilling if circumscribed life, controlled by surgical necessities, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual needs and demands, time constraints and the like; all understandable, if not altogether acceptable.

None the less her supportive ants manage to be there for her sometimes—collectively constantly—with Ann being there most reliably. Lucy makes constant demands, suffers perpetual insecurity, regular financial and variable alcohol and drug problems. Some are fateful, many are self induced. Lucy is predictably irresponsible and excused for it. Her ants cover her by paying bills, providing housing, giving her money, time, etc., always understanding of her fragile circumstances.

But Lucy’s demands are unrelenting and irresolvable by her support group. She becomes suicidal, yet not one of her friends will intervene in the situation to commit her against her will to an institution wherein she might receive help. None, it seems, has the cajones!

All of this arrests my compassion, if not for Lucy, for her ants, and herein lays the conundrum. While those who support her make “noble efforts” to do what they deem possible to save Lucy from herself and her dilemma(s) and make good-faith efforts to “be there” it is never enough, and they seem unable to take the critical step(s).

To me this represents the difficulty with modern adherents to the “I CARE” group of supersensitive individuals who are manifestly self-ennobled by their caring efforts and heartfelt compassion. They are so caught up in their righteous efforts, and so convinced that they simply must not make any judgments or decisions that they, in effect, permit this tragic lady to off herself--knowing fully that she would--without any definitive effort to do anything, all the while convinced of their magnanimity.

Whatever happened to friends who would not only support, cajole, love and cherish, but actually do something—interfere when required--for someone in desperate need? Especially a “best friend?”

Nonetheless it is a good read . . . if only to learn about how those of the sensitive, caring and compassionate group live and justify, magnify and gratify themselves. . . . As opposed, of course, to those of us who are not sensitive, caring and compassionate? Or noble!

Posted by respeto at February 4, 2007 3:32 PM