The way Ann Patchett wrote about Lucy: I, and many others, loved it.
Some people very much didn’t like it. In an essay called “The Love Between Two Women Is Not Normal” from This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Patchett writes about the backlash she received when Truth and Beauty was assigned to incoming freshmen. A protest was planned.
My friends from New York offered to go with me to South Carolina, expecting a gladiatorial match I would surely win. My friends from home read drafts of my speech and howled over the ever-growing stack of newspaper clippings. My friend from Mississippi told me not to go. “Cancel,” she said. “Cancel, cancel, cancel.” Mississippians tend not to be cavalier about the dangers of bigotry in the Deep South.
And why the fuss? It doesn’t surprise me:
“The love between the two women is not normal.” The reporter and the seventeen-year-old had finally come out and said the thing that no one else had had the nerve to mention: Lucy and I must have been having sex with each other. That was the only explanation for our loyalty, love, and devotion. Sex was the payoff for a difficult relationship, and without the sex the whole thing made no sense.
She went, she gave her speech with a bodyguard there, and she notes there wasn’t much protest. She admits to spending a huge amount of time on her speech, hoping it would persuade young hearts and minds to avoid censorship, but ultimately doesn’t think she changed many minds, which is indeed a topic for another day.
In my better moments, I tell myself what happened was a noble battle between freedom and oppression, but I knot it is equally possible that nothing so lofty occurred. Some people find sex and suffering and deep friendship between women unpalatable subjects, and seeing these subjects bearing down on their children, they no doubt felt they had to try and stop it. They didn’t succeed, but I seriously doubt that anyone was harmed by completing the assignment. If I am the worst thing the students of Clemson have to fear, then their lives will be very beautiful indeed.