Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

There was a huge dose of tragedy in the life of Lucy Grealy, enough to destroy a person without a strong will to survive. At age nine she was diagnosed to have Ewing's sarcoma on her jaw. After surgery and five years of cancer treatments, she spent fifteen years submitting to surgeries to reconstruct her face. With the hope that she would some day be beautiful like other girls, she agreed to thirty surgeries, each to be a step toward her goal. She recounted her story in Autobiography of a Face.

Grealy wrote vividly of her ordeal. After reading her book, I am certain that I never want chemotherapy or to have my skin or bones used to build new tissues in another part of my body. What Grealy endured is almost unimaginable to anyone who has lived a relatively healthy life, but she was not alone in suffering. She warmly describes other cancer patients that she met during her numerous hospital stays. Her story may be extreme in tenure but representative in its insults to patients. As a child, she was often not told what to expect from her surgeries and cancer treaments.

Ironically, Grealy insistented that the medical part of her life was the easier part of having cancer and subsequent deformity. What distressed her more was the way she was treated by peers, their parents, and even teachers. Pity, revulsion, avoidance, and malicious teasing were daily encounters for her. She came to welcome long stays in hospitals where she felt a great sense of tolerance and belonging.

"… a splendid debut" is how one advance reviewer described this book from the Iowa Writer's Workshop graduate. Sadly, Grealy had only one more book before she died at 39. Autobiography of a Face, however, survives for teens and adults interested in the impact of physical image on girls and women.

Grealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face. Houghton Mifflin, 1994. 223p. ISBN 0385657806.


Citizen Reader said...

Loved this book. So hard to read, but worth it. A lot like Alice Sebold's "Lucky"--that one's a heartbreaker too.

ricklibrarian said...

CR, Autobiography of a Face was recommended to me as I worked on an article for LJ about memoirs. The article should be in the January 2013 issue. Rick