Friday, October 7, 2016

Tonstant Weader and two gems

As patient blogistas who actually read in here know, I read in all forms, audio via Hoopla, audio via CD, Kindle, paper type books, depending on what I'm doing at the time.  So I consume large amounts of reading material, including Dorothy Parker from whom I swiped part of the blogpost title above, but I don't bother you with a lot of it.

Now and then I just have to, though, and this is one of those times.  I recently listened to an audio of Ann Patchett reading her book of essays and addresses, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  And in there was a long account of the address she gave at a university, part of their program, on the subject of her book Truth and Beauty.

It is a moving account of her life and times in the company of Lucy Grealey, the poet and author of Autobiography of a Face. To her amazement, she was subject to great criticism and outright hatred, much of it from people who bragged about not having read her book. Politicians who wanted her banned from campus, her talk cancelled, mothers of students who demanded that the book be taken out of the roster of required reading, on and on.

From accusations of "unnatural behavior" odd considering that both were seriously involved with the opposite sex most of the time, but anyway, to trying to introduce sex to college students (as if), in order to lead them astray, accounts of Lucy's final days, when she was addicted to heroin, bound to lead their young to do likewise, and so on.  But virulent and pretty scary.  

Despite advice to cancel, not to subject herself to an audience which might heckle and harass her in  real time, Patchett bravely went, took her stand, made the speech and lived to tell about it.  She was determined that freedom of speech should not stop before her, and that the academic environment, above all, should be a place where ideas are freely discussed and shared.

So I had to read Truth and Beauty in order to find out what had got these good folks all of a dither.  But first I had to read Autobiography of a Face, Grealey's masterwork, in order to understand before I got into the friendship, what kind of person, and more to the point, writer, Grealey was.

And I'd say that's a good order to read in.  Grealey's book, ostensibly about childhood cancer, leaving her face forever marked, despite multiple surgeries to rebuild her jaw, is in fact about much more than the facts of her life.

She's a poet, you realize that very fast, and has the penetrating, unswerving gaze of the artist who can see so many layers of meaning and so many further questions, about her life, and how to be part of life, and whether looks are the only entree to love and acceptance, while pursuing her own inevitable path into writing.

It cost her dearly, and she struggled more than most of us can imagine, with pain, treatments, depression, and the overall load of a massive talent in a tiny body, finally overtaken by the drugs she resorted to for relief, after moving on from pain medicine.

You simply have to keep reading.  Except when you have to put it down to come up for air, and remember to breathe.  It's all distilled wisdom.  And she's a true Irish writer, from an Irish family, father a journalist, moved to the US young,  eloquent, unsparing, detached.

Then Patchett, who knew Lucy after college when they taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, as part of their tuition deal, while both seriously pursued their own writing, to the end of Lucy's life, never doubted that Lucy's talent was greater than hers, a generous woman always.  She herself has won many prizes in her own right, and has a major writing career, but is still able to love and respect a greater writer, and cope with the difficulty of being a lifelong friend to a complicated and demanding person.

She has very different insights into their friendship, and into Lucy's struggles, many of which Lucy simply doesn't refer to, just deals with, but it's worth reading to see what she had to rise above. And Patchett is worth reading for herself.  And Grealey's family got into the act, criticizing Patchett for hijacking their family's grief and accusing her of getting famous by knowing Lucy, sigh.  

I suspect it's one of those times when the family doesn't quite realize and accept what a public property a famous gifted relative has become, and that they can't stop people knowing her, writing about her with love, and generally being visible.  Nor can they realize that another famous writer was writing about Lucy. So there are many roiling parts to this story, a drama rushing forward all the time.

These are two books both of which I'd heard of and not read, and both of which I do recommend, but Grealey unreservedly, Patchett with a little admission that I had to skip when it got too long and editworthy.

So there we are.  One thing that I think disappointed Lucy was that her audiences for lectures and public events were often populated by people who wanted to compare notes as cancer survivors and didn't realize she was lecturing as a poet, more than as a survivor. But her readers who go to her poetry read her as a writer.  Her experience informs her writing, that's usually the case, but it's not the whole thing.

So if you have not read both of them, do.  I think you'll get a lot out of it.  Most people have read the Grealey, but if you look on the Patchett as a companion volume, that would work well, too.

And you might have comments to leave here, too. Open to hearing!


1 comment:

  1. thanks for the review. Will put on my reading list for later.


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