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[Audiobooks] Autobiography of a FaceAuthor Lucy Grealy –

I first learned about Lucy Grealy through Ann Patchett s memoir Truth and Beauty, a memoir dedicated to her complex friendship with Grealy I almost wish I hadn t read it first in that case, I wouldn t have approached this book with deep sadness for what the future was to bring for Grealy.Grealy is a poet Each sentence was crafted with so much love, meaning, and feeling Throughout the book, she takes the reader into her confidence while relating her complicated relationship with herself, and acceptance of her imperfections Diagnosed with cancer at the age of nine, Lucy spends most of her child and adult life in and out of hospitals battling the disease, and then reconstructing her face due to the aftermath of invasive treatments Trying to define why she was destined to her painful fate, and coping with her fear of never being loved, Grealy dissects loneliness and conformity until it s an uncomfortable kernel I felt pulled in two different directions I had tasted what it was like to feel loved, to feel whole, and I had liked that taste But fear kept insisting that I needed someone else s longing to believe in that love No matter how philosophical my ideals, I boiled every equation down to these simple terms was I lovable or was I ugly I liked the way this book ended it was almost hopeful Grealy s premature death was really sad Any Google search will fill you in on the details I wish she had been able to overcome her past, and find her happiness What a deep loss. this book knocked me for six this, i m told, is a cricket based metaphor the only other cricket related sentence i know is the sound of willow on leather, which english expats like simon use with a quiver in their voices this has absolutely nothing to do with this review lucy grealy writes about her experience with a severely crippling childhood cancer which, besides putting her through years of chemo and radiation therapy with accompanying nausea, pain, terror, ill being, baldness, and missed classes, also ended up the chopping off of a good chunk of her face she was 9 it is not clear to me how happy her childhood had been till then maybe it s not clear to her, either but it is abundantly clear that the narrator of this memoir had an excruciatingly painful life at least starting at the age of nine till when she died of a drug overdose at 39 while i don t doubt that she had moments of relief and even happiness, very few of these moments make their appearance in this memoir, and when they do they are a set up for further, devastating falls.the genius of this book is not the cancer narrative per se, but the narrative of a childhood trauma so powerful that it empties a soul from inside out and cuts away those tenuous, undefinable, yet essential resources that allow one to navigate life and find solace and comfort in the company of others and especially oneself grealy s deepest disability is emotional.since lucy grealy has a fabulous way with words and with feelings and sees really deep inside her pain, she depicts her cancer in the context of a family life marred by great emotional abstinence and isolation adults are not good to lucy the doctor who gives her her weekly injections of chemotherapy is always on the phone yes, he gives her chemo while talking on the phone to someone else and relates to her as if she were an orange instead of a child they don t even exchange a word for three and dad, though obviously devoted to their children if i remember correctly there are six of them, and lucy is a twin , fail to connect with lucy s pain either because they cannot deal with their own pain or because they are too ashamed and embarrassed i.e cannot deal with their own pain by willing lucy s pain away and castigating her gently but firmly for complaining when she suffers, lucy s mother puts little lucy in a space in which pain is shameful and a sign of weakness the adult author knows all too well that denying pain its devastation proliferates it and makes it fester, yet she can only look at the damage that was done and report on it there is no transcendence in grealy s life a lot is made of peers teasing i can t imagine such horrible and relentless teasing happening when where i was a child ostracizing, gawking, and isolating, sure, but teasing like that i don t think so did i grow up in fairyland , while hardly any mention is made of siblings where are lucy s siblings, where is her twin while she walks to school among jeerings and attacks controversy arose when ann patchett published a memoir of her friendship with grealy apparently patchett wasn t very kind to grealy s family suellen grealy, lucy s older sister, felt moved to put out an angry article in defense of her family, her mother in particular my review of this book has nothing to do with the reality of grealy s family, her siblings, her parents it has to do only with the story the narrator of Autobiography of a Face tells us she chooses to leave out her siblings and to depict her parents as emotionally unavailable this has nothing to do with the reality of these things nothing anyone who misses this distinction does the grealy family the injustice suellen laments in her article having said this, i also want to say that, within the story, the traumatic impact of lucy s cancer is exponentially magnified by the bad emotional handling she gets from parents and doctors in this sense, this is a tremendous testimony to the power of context in the genesis of devastating trauma. I wasn t sure where to begin in this review because so many things could be said The book is not especially sad, but the end may leave you with that feeling for you Sometimes there is not perfect resolution I felt pain for this child who lived through cancer, and later the woman she had become which included strength of perseverance, and acceptance Battling cancer was only the first part of her journey It could be said that the living with the deformity caused by the cancer and the surgeries were the hardest part After completing the book, I listened to an interview with Lucy Grealy In the interview she was asked to explain her point in writing Autobiography of a Face She said that ultimately it is about our identities who we are, how we perceive and are perceived by others All of that based foremost on appearance Looking back, I see that in her wordsI spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparisonAs a child, Lucy often hid her face People stared Many kids made fun I was struck by the moment she described wearing a mask on Halloween In that moment she was unbound It was not the outward appearance of the mask that did this, but the confidence it provided a beautiful child whose self identity had been shaped by her facial disfigurement Lucy endured over 30 reconstructive surgeries throughout her lifetime to rebuild her jaw She would come to terms with a final surgery in adulthood Although she may not have been happy with her appearance, I believe she knew that what I look like does make me who I am. I m so glad I read this book after reading Ann Patchett s Truth and Beauty, which was her take on the friendship between the two women I came away from reading the first book with a very skewed idea of what the relationship was like I didn t like Lucy Grealy at all she came across as a self involved neurotic who totally wasted her life and died of an accidental heroin overdose After reading Lucy s own account of her childhood cancer and all the hardships she endured because of her treatments, I think I have a much balanced idea of what courage she actually displayed This book was written several years before she died so her life may have disintegrated toward the end, but I had to admire her courage and very unique perspective on her own life She had very little self pity about her condition The two books offer a stark contrast, with the truth probably being somewhere in the middle. While reading this book, I was reminded of something my daughter used to say when she was little and she came to me after one of her brothers or a friend hurt her feelings She would say Mommy, my heart hurts Well, that sentence seems the perfect way to describe my feelings about this book.I discovered Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy at a used book store The photo on the cover immediately caught my eye it was startling The photo caught me, and the story pulled me in and ultimately broke my heart This story Lucy s story is heart wrenching but it also demonstrates how resilient human beings can be In this memoir, Lucy Grealy writes about her life Although she hadn t been on the planet for long, her memories ranging from her childhood to the time she became a young woman are difficult and even shocking to read about Lucy was diagnosed at age 9 with Ewing s sarcoma a rare cancer which required the removal of half of her jaw bone, 2 years of radiation and chemotherapy and countless unsuccessful reconstructive surgeries over many years of her life.As if the cancer was not than enough for one person to bear, Lucy also endured care by a doctor who seemed completely disinterested in her care, often talking on the phone throughout his examination of her She often missed huge amounts of school but whenever she did manage to attend, she was teased and picked on mercilessly And her mother well, I couldn t decide if she was simply self absorbed or was just unable to cope.Many of the reconstructive surgeries Lucy elected to have were a result of her longing to have a face which would allow her to feel as if she belonged She explains the constant conflict she felt over wishing people would NOT stare at her face and yet at the same time, longing for a face which people could look upon without her seeing their obvious feelings of pity and disgust She wrote I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy in my life The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison I couldn t stop thinking about Lucy s eloquent words Her words encouraged me to consider something that I have never thought much about how much of our identities the way we see ourselves and FEEL about ourselves is intertwined with the way we look More importantly, how much of our identities is related to the way we feel OTHER PEOPLE view us It was agonizing to read about each surgery Lucy elected to undergo she was wistfully hoping and at the same time, trying NOT to hope each time the grafting of first, skin and then bone from one part of her body to her missing jaw bone would prove miraculous only to eventually discover that her face would once again collapse into itself She writes of accidentally seeing herself in the mirror of a dressing room after one of her surgeries spending as much time as I did looking in the mirror, I thought I knew what I looked like so it came as a shock to me one afternoon when I saw my face in the harsh fluorescent light of the fitting room walking up to the mirror, reaching up to touch the right side, where the graft had been put in only a year before, I saw clearly that most of it had disappeared, melted away into nothing Although Lucy s struggles with identity continue throughout her memoir, she DOES manage to discover things in her life which bring her pleasure She discovers a love of horses and she finds relief and escape in exercising the animals at a local stable She loves poetry and begins not only reading but writing her own verse She gets accepted into Sarah Lawrence College and develops some true friendships She travels through Europe and eventually, she gets accepted into the renowned Iowa Writer s Workshop which is about where she leaves off in this memoir leaving you with a sense of cautious optimism for her and her future Closing the book didn t end my thoughts about it, however I find that even now, months later, I continue to ask myself how would it feel to look in a mirror and see an image that doesn t match the image I have of myself in my mind I m not a religious person but I know that many religions teach that our physical bodies are not who we are So why then does it feel as if our identities are tied so closely to how we see ourselves and how we believe others see us As you might guess, I have no real answers to these questions I need to add that if you are curious or interested in what happened to Lucy Grealy AFTER the events she recounts in this memoir, I can suggest that you read Truth and Beauty written by Ann Patchett I realized halfway into Autobiography of a Face that Lucy s story seemed familiar to me I did a bit of research and discovered that many years ago, I had read Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett who was a close friend of Lucy Grealy they met at that Iowa Writer s Workshop that was mentioned At that point, recognition came flooding back and I can say that I wish I had read Autobiography of a Face first Before I had a chance to finish Lucy Grealy s book, I already knew how her story ends and if possible, her story felt even heartbreaking.This story, although incredibly sad, was eloquent and at times darkly funny and always thought provoking I highly recommend both books but read this one first 3.5 There is much said about this memoir from many POVs and my thoughts about it are complicated As one reviewer pointed out the title says Autobiography of a Face and that s what it is Hoping to find a holistic view to other aspects of life in the aftermath of her childhood experience left me disappointed She spends the majority of this book in those early years and quickly wraps it up after college Like others I wondered how she could so clearly recall the details and memories from such a young age As it turns out, according to an afterward not included in my copy I didn t remember it I wrote it I m a writer So we are left with the imaginative retelling of a woman s self obcession with beauty and lifelong belief in her unworthiness That imagination and her wonderful writing filled a void but would not be a path to healing and wholeness Lucy was unable to dispel her demons and I don t know that I could have lived that life any better under the oppressive burdens and circumstances Read for my book club it received 3, 3.5, and 5 stars. Lucy Grealy s memoir AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE was met with wide critical and popular acclaim when published The book is overrated in my opinion, and it provides a good test case for Vivian Gornick s concepts of the situation and the story Every work of literature has both a situation and a story, Gornick writes in her book THE SITUATION AND THE STORY The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say 13 Grealy s situation is compelling as a young girl, she is diagnosed with the rare and formidable Ewing s Sarcoma and has an operation to remove the malignant tumor from her face Her prognosis is dismal, and she is left with a disfigurement that makes her ugly This sense of her own ugliness looms over her, and thus the story is about her unsurprising search for beauty and truth Or, so she says Grealy s search for truth falls short for me, in part because I suspect that she was conflicted about her own truth at the time of the book s writing, but her search for beauty is a strong, well developed theme Her musings on beauty and ugliness, in fact, as well as her excellent descriptions of the alien hospital world, were what made me stick with this book when I wanted to put it down What was missing for me on the whole was complex story development her situation is dramatic, while the story lacks shape and texture in many places I suggest that this flatness has to do with the book s early avoidance of the shadow side of her experience during the time of her diagnosis and early treatment She doesn t engage with her own doubt Here s an example of this flatness from a passage set during her initial hospital stay This sense of comfort continued in the following days and weeks There were definite problems to face here, but to me they seemed entirely manageable lie still when you re told, be brave It didn t seem like so much to ask, really, considering what I got in return attention, absence from school, occasional presents, and,though I wouldn t have articulated it, freedom from the tensions at homeSome of the other visiting parents, the ones who came in every day, felt sorry for my lack of visitors and sneaked me contraband food items I played up to this expertly whenever I sensed a particularly orphan sensitive audience My mother would have been appalled if she d known 38.The problem I had with this scene and others like it is they struck me as disingenuous She never develops these tensions at home any further, but since she continues to refer to fraught family relationships, we have to take her on her word If part of her identity was that of emotional orphan or orphan of illness, she doesn t illustrate the becoming of that identity In fact, mom and dad seem pleasant, caring, and supportive, albeit fuzzy, as characters If there are tensions at home, show the reader I don t doubt that parents could do their best, and a child could still feel differently, could feel lost and alien But Grealy doesn t take us through the formation of this important alienation that underpins the story.The flatness in the beginning is, I think, a problem of persona Her early persona is one of a young girl trying to keep her chin up, to appear strong, and to avoid whining While a perfectly believable pose for a child to adopt, a pose to spare her parents and to spare her shame, what she doesn t write about is the underside of these exhausting heroics and overtures We don t get inside of how it felt to be her, struggling for strength in a time of what must have been unimaginable fear In fact, her protestations against whininess come off as, well, whiny The reader can be told that this conflict is heartbreaking, but we don t feel it She doesn t let us deep inside the conflict at least not initially So for the first 50 or so pages, we are met with a somewhat unreliable narrator, one whom we suspect is holding back When she does begin to share her conflicted interiority, it feels too late in the story.Another problem I had was Grealy s reliance on summary There were plenty of interesting scenes, but we were held back from them frequently, or we were told what they meant or stood for Grealy s problems may well have to do with narrative distance and persona The story is either too close or too far, and in both cases the effect is loss of clarity One technical issue that contributed to this distance was her overuse of the conditional tense I would, We would , they would This approach veers too easily toward summary, and the effect is one of drifting through generic time what life was like generally Grealy writes some scenes in simple past, too, but the conditional is overused in order to avoid climbing inside of discrete, crystalline moments Perhaps it was too painful for the writer to do, but this approach distanced me from story.On the whole, I am glad I read the book It did get better as she went the insights became felt, the persona honest as she grappled with the mess inside Grealy was at her best when grasping the minutiae of daily hospital life here she seemed expert not only of a hidden world, but expert of herself, clear about her own responses to her peculiar alien existence In these sections of the book, I felt the truth of what Gornick said about how clarity of persona energizes the story Ultimately, I hope my criticisms of Grealy will help me puzzle out my own problems as a writer narrative distance, time and tense, and compensating for story with capital V voice. I Spent Five Years Of My Life Being Treated For Cancer, But Since Then I Ve Spent Fifteen Years Being Treated For Nothing Other Than Looking Different From Everyone Else It Was The Pain From That, From Feeling Ugly, That I Always Viewed As The Great Tragedy Of My Life The Fact That I Had Cancer Seemed Minor In ComparisonAt Age Nine, Lucy Grealy Was Diagnosed With A Potentially Terminal Cancer When She Returned To School With A Third Of Her Jaw Removed, She Faced The Cruel Taunts Of Classmates In This Strikingly Candid Memoir, Grealy Tells Her Story Of Great Suffering And Remarkable Strength Without Sentimentality And With Considerable Wit Vividly Portraying The Pain Of Peer Rejection And The Guilty Pleasures Of Wanting To Be Special, Grealy Captures With Unique Insight What It Is Like As A Child And Young Adult To Be Torn Between Two Warring Impulses To Feel That Than Anything Else We Want To Be Loved For Who We Are, While Wishing Desperately And Secretly To Be Perfect Ehmat the risk of sounding completely cold, I did not like this book I spent most of the book so consumed by frustration for Lucy s mother and Lucy s own perceptions that I couldn t allow myself to feel anything else for her Yes, she was a cancer survivor, and she was treated horribly by her peers growing up But sometime after the large portion of her jaw was removed, she admits that she didn t even understand that she had had cancer until many years later She thought that people stared at her because she had lost her hair due to chemotherapy, not because of the shape of her face She spent so much time deluding herself into believing a warped reality that she lost out on a good portion of her life She came off as horribly selfish when detailing her many hospital stays and her initial reaction upon finding out her father had been hospitalized her chances of getting a pony diminished significantly at that time She obsessed about being loved, but did not make a very strong case for her being an ideal recipient of love The mother was frustrating solely for her inability to mother Your daughter is sitting in front of you having poison pumped directly into her body, and you chastise her for crying Then you remark on how disappointed you are at the fact that she s letting the treatment bring you down Seriously, if there was ever a child who could have used a pat on the head and a comforting, There, there , it was Lucy.She tended to dwell on things, and that lead to unnecessarily long and detailed sections that could have been left out If you ever wanted to know which flavor of pudding to consume for a pleasingly aesthetic vomit, this book will tell you It will also tell you how to induce pneumonia by inhaling your vomit Yeslots of vomit talk, which goes back to my original point it really could have been left out.The last thing I want to say is that I m not so callous as to not feel sympathy for the things that Lucy had to deal with in her life It couldn t have been easy But, here s the thing The back jacket should not have promised a novel that told her story without sentimentality , because that s not the same book that I cracked open If those passages on love, acceptance and her place in the world weren t an example of wallowing in the sentimental, I don t know what is. This book tells the story of Lucy, who, after going through five years of harsh cancer treatments, had to have a section of her jaw removed Not soon afterwards, she found rejection and humiliation from her classmates Autobiography of a Face is a powerful, unforgettable novel about overcoming bullying and showing people who you truly are.