BEACH MUSIC by Pat Conroy


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 The latest in Conroy's output of overwrought, overwritten family sagas (Prince of Tides, 1986, etc.): a sprawling, oversized beach read with the loftiest of intentions. Jack McCall is a wisecracking but tenderhearted travel/food writer with a painful past. After his beloved wife and high-school sweetheart Shyla leaps to her death from a bridge, he flees to Rome with their infant daughter, determined to raise her free from his and Shyla's oppressive southern heritage. You name it, Jack is running from it: a brutal, alcoholic father; an emotionally distant mother; four overbearing brothers (including a schizophrenic); boyhood friends turned enemies; and Shyla's parents, Holocaust survivors who never accepted their Catholic son-in-law and even blamed him for Shyla's suicide, though they desperately want to get to know their granddaughter. When Jack learns of his mother's impending death from leukemia, he returns to South Carolina for the first time in seven years, plunging nine-year-old Leah into a world she has known only through her father's eyes and stories, and finally forcing himself to wrestle with his own numerous demons. With zeal like that of his now-familiar swaggering protagonists, Conroy spins out of control once Jack and Leah leave Romehis all- encompassing sweep of the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, international terrorism, politics, religion, and the evils of Hollywood leaves little time for the bones of Jack's family drama or his sketchy romance with Ledare, another figure from his past. A real gift for storytelling emerges in spots, especially when Conroy sticks close to home, but eventually the overwhelming ``themes'' and cloying prose (hazelnut ice cream reminds Jack of ``smoke and ice and darkness'') sink the story like a ton of concrete. The Prince of Tides goes to EuropeConroy promises untold horrors and ecstasies, but delivers refractory, predictable, and occasionally entertaining southern fluff. (First printing of 750,000; Literary Guild selection; author tour)

Pub Date: June 28th, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-41304-1
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1995


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