Lucy Grealy •
Autobiography of a Face •
I passed up this book the first time I saw it, assuming from the title that it was slick hype by some supermodel. I couldn’t have been more wrong: It’s the poetic, spirited tale of a woman with severe facial disfigurement.
Autobiography of a Face tells Lucy Grealy’s story in her own haunting, spare voice. Much of her life is taken up with medical procedures, each more grueling than the last, intended to reconstruct the jaw damaged in a playground mishap and allow her to eat normally. To cope with the suffering and isolation she experiences as a child, Grealy develops extraordinary internal resources: a heightened imagination and sensitivity, intuitive connection with animals, and fierce devotion to the ideals of Truth and Beauty. (Novelist Ann Patchett borrowed this for the title of her memoir about Grealy.)
The passages describing her empathy with horses are particularly compelling. “When I was in their presence, nothing else mattered . . . Horses neither disapproved nor approved of what I looked like. All that counted was how I treated them, how my actions weighted themselves in the world. I loved to stand next to them with no other humans in sight and rest my head against their warm flanks, trace the whorls in their hide with the fingers of one hand while the other hand rested on the soft skin of their bellies. All the while, I’d listen to the patient sounds of their stomachs and smell the sweet air from their lungs as attentively as if I were being sent information from another world.”
Grealy herself comes across as half a wild thing, half a spirit thing, and entirely a brilliant poet. The world lost a great talent with her untimely death.