One of the most widely read authors from the American South puts his demons to bed at long last.
One doesn’t have to have read The Great Santini (1976) to know that Pat Conroy (My Reading Life, 2010, etc.) was deeply scarred by his childhood. It is the theme of his work and his life, from the love-hate relationship in The Lords of Discipline (1980) to broken Tom Wingo in The Prince of Tides (1986) to the mourning survivor Jack McCall in Beach Music (1995). In this memoir, Conroy unflinchingly reveals that his father, fighter pilot Donald Conroy, was actually much worse than the abusive Meechum in his novel. Telling the truth also forces the author to confront a number of difficult realizations about himself. “I was born with a delusion in my soul that I’ve fought a rearguard battle with my entire life,” he writes. “Though I’m very much my mother’s boy, it has pained me to admit the blood of Santini rushes hard and fast in my bloodstream. My mother gave me a poet’s sensibility; my father’s DNA assured me that I was always ready for a fight, and that I could ride into any fray as a field-tested lord of battle.” Conroy lovingly describes his mother, whom he admits he idealized in The Great Santini and corrects for this book. Although his father’s fearsome persona never really changed, Conroy learned to forgive and even sympathize with his father, who would attend book signings with his son and good-naturedly satirize his own terrifying image. Less droll is the story of Conroy’s younger brother, Tom, who flung himself off a building in a suicidal fit of schizophrenia, and Conroy’s combative relationship with his sister, the poet Carol Conroy. It’s an emotionally difficult journey that should lend fans of Conroy’s fiction an insightful back story to his richly imagined characters.
The moving true story of an unforgivable father and his unlikely redemption.