A very personal memoir about the acclaimed Southern writer.
Novelist and journalist Mewshaw’s (Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal, 2015, etc.) portrait of his close friend Pat Conroy (1945-2016) is breezy, sympathetic, and affectionate. Conroy, he writes, was a “manic talker and tireless narrator of stories, some much too tall to be true, some so searingly true they left scars on his listeners,” and he calls Conroy’s works “the prose equivalent of lacerating confessional poetry.” Their friendship extended through the 1980s and ’90s when Conroy was working on Prince of Tides and Beach Music. It was Conroy who later suggested Mewshaw write about him. When Conroy first met Mewshaw in Rome in 1981, he told him he was “desperate for a friend.” Mewshaw was an amiable writer who was also a good listener, which Conroy needed. Mewshaw then “devoured” The Water Is Wide and The Great Santini. The latter comes up quite a bit here, not just because it was so well-done and became a popular movie, but because Mewshaw, as he got closer to Conroy, became increasingly suspicious about the veracity of Conroy’s descriptions of his relationships with his “ruthless” Marine father and submissive mother. As Conroy once told Mewshaw, “I’m the most falsely open person you’ll ever meet.” Their families also became close, and Mewshaw writes extensively about these relationships—sometimes too much. Conroy “wore me out,” Mewshaw writes, “and he worried me.” Their friendship fell apart over family issues. The book is full of wonderful anecdotes and vignettes about fellow writers William Styron, Mark Helprin, Nora Ephron, and Gore Vidal, who told Mewshaw that Conroy’s “novels about dysfunctional families indicate just how fucked-up our nuclear units have become.” Mewshaw also chronicles Conroy’s alcoholism and the devastating effect it had on his writing and health.
A fiercely honest and melancholy portrait of a “protean figure who cast a large shifting shadow.”