Parnassus Books. In fact, I was there two years ago when she was given the WNBA Award. But I never read one of her books. Until now.
Naturally, given my penchant for memoirs, I started with hers instead of one of her many novels. Ann went to the University of Iowa for her MFA (wow, best program in the country if not the world.) So did Lucy Grealy. They'd gone to college together but didn't know each other then. Ann knew who Lucy was though. Everyone did. When Lucy was a child, she had cancer, which left her with almost no jaw left, so she had a distinctive face. Ann and Lucy became roommates and best friends, and stayed best friends for the next twenty years.
Typically, opposites attract. Ann is steady, methodical, responsible. Lucy is wild, emotional, passionate. Even after graduate school, the talk and write nearly every day. Lucy has a series of surgeries (which never really stopped since she was a pre-teen) to try to fix her jaw, including taking her tibia and having skin grafts and other soft tissue and bone grafts. For a while, those surgeries kept her trapped in Scotland (a UK native, she could get free surgeries there) where she was a prolific letter writer. Meanwhile, aside from a young marriage and quick divorce, Ann, the novelist, is cautious, she writes her designated number of pages every day, and she moves home to Nashville to waitress, because that is the smart move financially. Lucy, a poet, has a series of terrible relationships, gets deep in debt, and moves to New York because it's exciting. She writes when her deadline is on top of her (or past.)
Eventually, they both find success. Ann, with her fourth novel, and Lucy with an essay in a magazine that leads to a memoir. But Lucy is always chasing love. The adulation of fans is great for a while, until it dissipates and she just can't write her contracted-for novel. But her great need for love doesn't fade with her fame. Her constant chase for something new, something better, for a fix for her face, leads her down a bad path. Ann tries to help her, but she can't save her.
The writing is stunning. Lucy's letters in particular have lines of pure brilliance. Ann's talent lies in making us feel empathy and understanding towards a woman who seems like the neediest, most hysterical bipolar person I could ever hope to meet. And yet through Ann's eyes, I see the beauty in Lucy, the excitement, the challenge, the hope in being her friend. I admire Ann for standing by her for all those years, while admitting that I'm not sure if I would have. Ann seems to be a woman of infinite patience. And Lucy was lucky to have had her as a friend. And she was lucky to have had Lucy.
I have no idea where I got this book, but I at one point owned two copies. I've owned it for years.