Thursday, May 22, 2014

Santini and Son

Prince of Tides was the first of Pat Conroy's novels I read, and I still have some of the scenes (the unconventional use of the statue of the Christ child, the tiger) burned in my memory.  Since reading that novel, I've noticed that most of his books have at least one chapter that would stand alone as a sport story.  This one had a high school football game shortly after school integration. (By the way, if you've never seen the movie, skip it. Read the book--unless you are a really really big Barbra Streisand fan.)

Since then I've gone on to read The Water Is Wide, a book that strikes a chord with any teacher, Beach Music, Lord of Discipline (which has one of my favorite passages, the "great teacher theory").  I read Conroy's memoirs too--My Reading Life (which confirmed my own experience meeting Alice Walker--twice) and My Losing Season, the story of his own experience at the Citadel (in which one of his fictional characters makes a cameo appearance.)  When Conroy came to Hickory as part of Lenoir Rhyne's Visiting Writer Series, he stirred up a controversy that was part misspeaking, part misunderstanding, but he also made such an impact on one of my high school students who, at the time, had applied to the Citadel.  During the book signing before his reading, he took time to talk to Scott about his future plans.  Another student I taught, after being accepted to the Citadel, received a congratulatory letter form Conroy.

Each time I read one of his books, I find myself surprised by the impact of the story.  When I read The Great Santini, he got me in the beginning with the story of the road trip (not stopping for rest stops, intentionally targeting turtles on the road)--especially the children's almost blasphemous parody of a Marine festive event.  When I read of the interesting relationship between father and son as years went on, I was amused, to say the least, to learn that Don Conroy--Santini himself--attended signings with his son who had made him famous.  He reportedly told Pat, "I should have beaten you more--made you a better writer," to which his son replied, "If you'd beaten me more, I'd have been Shakespeare."

In this latest family story--he says his last--he starts at the beginning and pulls together the threads of the family. So many of the stories before have been a tribute to his mother.  This story gives a great deal of attention to conflicts with his sister Carol Ann, the poet in the family.  His account of her behavior at their parents' funerals is a perfect example of dark humor.  While giving his father a measure of grace in the book, Conroy makes no attempt to gloss over his own shortcomings and reveals much about his own demons--the depression and suicidal tendencies that haunt many of the family members.

I'm not sure what vein Conroy will tap next, but I expect it, too, will join the others on my shelves.


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