Summary (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Autobiography of a Face is the brilliant prose debut of award-winning poet Lucy Grealy. Grealy spent five years of her childhood being treated for cancer. The surgery left her face badly disfigured, and she spent the next fifteen years, as she says, being treated for nothing else than looking different from everyone else. It took more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance. Until that time, she had to live with the daily torture of peer rejection and the growing fear of never being loved. Feeling ugly, she says, seemed the greatest tragedy of her life: The fact that she had cancer seemed minor by comparison.
The book opens several years after the cancer surgery, with an account of an adolescent Grealy helping a local stable with a pony party in an affluent suburb. She is by then adept at avoiding the curious or hostile gaze of other children by hiding her disfigured jaw behind a curtain of long hair. Anyone who has any lingering doubts that children (to be specific, in this case, boys) can be routinely and systematically cruel beyond adult comprehension will be disabused by this book.
Grealy enjoys working with horses because she gains from them an unconditional acceptance that she does not gain from people. She gets a job at a stable and takes comfort in taking care of the basic needs of the horses. In such work, all extraneous grievances are shed. There is a deeply moving episode in which her...
(The entire section is 2051 words.)
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