R. I. P. Pat Conroy

Today’s post is by Barbara in Robbinsdale

Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, et al., died last week on March 4, 2016. He wrote prolifically about a harrowing childhood in which his father played a huge role – his military style of parenting; the verbal and emotional abuse he visited on Conroy and his siblings; and the “military brat” lifestyle of moving around the South – 24 places by the time Conroy was 15. Conroy’s writing both “saved” him, and was the cause of more conflict – in the form of rifts with family members throughout his adult life.

Four of Pat Conroy’s books became movies:

  • The Water is Wide, 1972 (movie 1974, Conrack)   (also a Hallmark TV presentation, 2006)
  • The Great Santini, 1976 (movie 1979)
  • The Lords of Discipline, 1980 (movie 1983)
  • The Prince of Tides, 1986 (movie 1991)

In his final memoir, The Death of Santini (2013), he may have finally achieved a degree of closure and peace about his father. But as I listened last week to a “Talking Volumes” interview with MPR’s Kerry Miller, it was the stories he told about his mother that enchanted me, and shaped the rest of his life – how “she made reading the most important thing a person could do.” She took all the kids (ultimately seven) to the library every week, and they each checked out as many books as they were allowed (5 books in most libraries). They would then “read ‘em and trade ‘em,” so the kids might read as many as 25 books a week!

Literature became as real as anything else in the world, “and my mother made it that way.” She would read to him at bedtime each night, one of the first in his memory (at about age 5) being her favorite: Gone with the Wind.” He remembered it this way in the interview:

“Now Pa-at… when you hear me read about Scarlett O’hara, it is quite naturally for you to mistake Miss Scarlett for your own pretty mama. And when you read about that dastardly Rhett Butler, you can think about your fighter pilot father in Korea.” And she said, “When you think about Melanie Wilkes you can think about your tacky Aunt Helen… that girl don’t have a lick of sense and no personality whatsoever.”

When she read that way, with “every character in that book she could associate somebody we knew – it was the first time I knew there was a relationship between life and art.”

The more I read about Pat Conroy, i.e. from his website,   http://www.patconroy.com/about.php

the more of his books I want to read, especially The Death of Santini, and The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of my Life.

 

Is there a book in your “repertoire” in which you can insert people you know for some memorable character(s)?

72 thoughts on “R. I. P. Pat Conroy”

  1. I’m not good at remembering the details of fiction books that I have read. One book that I can recall in detail is Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. No doubt many boys identified with Tom Sawyer when they read that book. I did. Although I was not very much like Tom, I had no trouble putting myself in Tom’s shoes.

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  2. thanks bir,
    pat conroy was my favorite author. i believe the radio replay the other day was from the visit he paid at the fitz a couple of years ago. i heard a bit of the tail end of the interview on the radio.
    i punched it up on the computer but was to busy to listen to it so thank you for reminding me. i am listening to it now as i write.
    i first saw pat at the pen pals series many years ago and have seen him a couple times since.
    i have read all the pat conroy books but the last one. i guess i have saved this for my last fresh reading of him. i heard he quit writing because his hands were giving him trouble an he was a pen to paper kind of guy.
    he wrote of the south but in a way that made the south feel like a known place. i lived the water is wide. the great santini, the lords of discipline the prince of tides. later beach music, south of broad, my losing season. and i was always so ready for his next book and then tried to savor the words. 300 pages can be milked for a week or more if you go at it correctly. it used to really make me upset that i waited for a couple of years for his book and then i read the book i had been waiting for in a couple of days. i guess the trick is to have a stable of authors so that i have the book i have been waiting for by back of them can go on my bedside table and get in line.

    i guess i have always read with a bit of the relating to other people but in a radio vice sort of way. the way the voice paints a picture but when you see the person the voice belongs to it is different i dont know how but i know its different. the books of kurt vonnegut and pat conroy paint pictures that have nothing to do with the people i have known but as i am reading it i feel like i am on a road trip and the people in these books are the people i have met. i guess maybe i am lucky in that i get comfortable enough with people to chat and get to know them in the moment and when i read a book i do the same thing. i get comfortable and slide right into the conversation. not so much with a person in particular but with people in general. the way i read is as if i am int he scene and i dont sit back as an overvewer too often but more in the midst of the scene and among the people the story is telling. my mother wasnt scarlett o hara my father wasnt rhett buttler but me and rhett hung together and got to know each other. i enjoyed him and i always got the impression he enjoyed me. now hannible lector was a little creepy to have over but thats the beaut f it. in book form you have the security of being able to close the cover when the discomfort is too great. much nicer than the real deal in that way. but i do know the people i read and write about. a bit form this guy a b form that one. i love pat conroys stories he was a good story teller and i will miss looking forward to his next one. i always looked forward to his next one.

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      1. A close friend of mine, a retired therapist who’s gradually losing his eyesight, is writing a fiction book that begins with an old man losing his wife, then gradually reengaging with old friends and beginnong to build a new life. “Ned” emails me each chapter to check out a reader’s response.

        I’ve told him that if I wasn’t getting his chapters one at a time and could read them all at once, I wouldn’t be able to stop reading for even a bathroom break. A gifted story writer (like my brother) can pull you in and experience the essence of each character as though you’re him or her. I feel privileged to read a book firsthand that I predict could be a bestseller when published.

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      1. he had a blog i signed up for but it was obvious after a while that he didnt have the blog in his priority list. he said it was hard to write and that he might be through but i dint look into what was going on with him, i just wished him the best i could through the air waves and let it go at that. i see he died of pancreatic cancer. it reminds me of a friend who found out he has pancreatic cancer and thought it would be beatable and is still battling as far as i know. a tough deal. we all know its coming but with that particular set of corcumstances you see the end coming sooner rather than later.

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  3. All bully-type men are four people I have known.
    There are many books out there about old men facing their faults and failings. I see myself in those people.
    Most of the men in Catch-22 relate to someone in my life. Major Major Major who was only in when he was out and out when he was in was like principal I knew.
    The child character I relate to the most is Kevin in The Wonder Years.
    All of my families sees my brother-in-law in pompous characters, especially the professor who knows everything.
    The stereotypical Iron Ranger is not uncommon in books. Barney Fifish small town cops are three small town cops I knew. See them in Jon Hassler.

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  4. I can’t think of who in my life fits into the books I’ve read recently, but in college I inserted myself into characters I wanted to be like…Clea in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Anais Nin from her diaries…didn’t turn out to be true for either…I’m just too midwestern American, after all.

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      1. At least once. Tried again recently, but it doesn’t feel the same…probably because I am in a different place in my life. I read almost all (maybe not the last one) of Nin’s diaries, much of Henry Miller’s novels plus the letters between Durrell and Miller. When in France went to Sommiere where Durrell lived out his life, visited a museum with his paintings. A pilgrimage to my youth, perhaps?

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    1. Durrell’s prose is dense but beautiful. He is also quite funny. He compared Retsina, that Greek wine to “pure turpentine that had been strained through the socks of a bishop”. He also wrote a lovely book about the Greek islands.

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  5. I do not see my life or the lives of others in terms of a specific book or the vision of a particular author. Yet I have long viewed the lives of people I know as if they were characters in a novel. I recall the moment I began thinking this way. I was reflecting on the director and assistant director of my graduate program. I suddenly I realized they led lives–secret lives–as astonishing and complicated as those of protagonists in novels.

    Ordinary people have all the same crises we see in novels: they experience love, fear, madness, jealousy, hate, triumph and all other passions exactly as the characters in novels do. I suppose there are people who are as boring as they appear to be. But I know some of those folks have amazing secret lives. Their lives are as incredible as anything Conroy wrote about, only nobody was paying them that kind of attention. This perspective guided me as I wrote about the lives of my parents in that book I was never able to get published.

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    1. In my bit of fiction writing, I only write about ordinary people dealing with ordinary life crises, not that such things cannot be dramatic and passionate. In my short stories I am surprised how many character I create for whom I have no real model in mind. I think my mind does what it has always dome best when I create characters, sort, assemble, find the commonality.

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  6. In spite of what I wrote above, I’ve been thinking this week that I strongly resemble two characters from novels. But actually that doesn’t contradict my earlier statement. I recently realized I am like Ishmael in Moby Dick and Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. What they have in common with me is that both are a bit bland, the kind of person nobody notices in social settings. The key to understanding them is to see that they are observers and storytellers. Their role is to watch great events and then report on them. As a character, I’m not very interesting. But that’s okay: I am here to be a witness.

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    1. I find Ishmael a wonderful and rich character, appealing. Who does not want to live his sort of picaresque life. I love his keen sensibility and wit. Carraway is a poor name for Nick. He’s too dull and pasty and sychophantish to have any appeal.
      I have been reading Azar Nafisi, “Reading Lolita in Tehran” which is as much literary analysis as anything else. I fell in love with her on “Finding Our Roots.” I like her intelligent Persian take on Western Lit. Her latest book is about three books all Americans should read because of how they define us. Huck Finn, Gatsby, and Wizard of Oz. What? I guess I will have to at least browse. Gatsby eludes me. Detest Wizard of Oz as anything but good read for kids of a certain age.

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        1. I meant in re to you. You are far more ismael. You would sleep with Quequiq at the Spouter Inn.

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  7. I am not a great fan of Conroy. Could not watch Great Santini, perhaps too much identification, in a back door sort of way. I taught my students the old notion that as you read you strike a balance between identification and aesthetic distance, and to some degree you need both. As I age I often am too strong on one or the other, not at the balance point.
    At the end of the year in AP English, when we were all burned out, I would assign the kids a presentation. They had to identify and have me approve a book (to avoid repeated use) a book from their childhood, preferably an early reader sort of book that had really struck them. Then they had to present a literary analysis to the class including how they identified and what aesthetic appeal they found. Kids loved the topic. In a way it was sort of psychoanalysis watching the presentations. Sandy loved it too because all her one-time story hour kids came back to the public library to check out children’s books.
    I like the movie Conrack, the vaguely amateurish, documentary style. In my work in the South I met many school administrators bot White and Black like those in the movie.

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  8. I’m more like Steve, an observer of life, and I don’t project people I know into books characters or movie characters.

    I have to say “Beach Music” is one of my all-time favorite books. Not sure why, maybe it was Jack in Italy with his daughter eating all that great food, maybe it was the enigmatic Shyla, the reclusive “what’s his name,” the character who became a monk then reappeared at a key point in the story (sorry for the memory lapse, I haven’t read the book in years). For an undefinable reason, the story and the characters resonated deeply in me.

    Chris in Owatonna

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    1. i really enjoyed beach music but i have a mush brain when it comes to storie lines. i cant remember one from another. i waited for beach music for a long time and had to pace it out when i got it. i made it last a week i think. then a wait for the next one. south of broad is a favorite too. but he gets hung up on trying to write a story . in his earlier works he focused more on the words than the stories.

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  9. I’d like to return to the theme of ordinary people being interesting, or maybe it is that we fool ourselves when we dismiss people as ordinary. My erstwife worked on a book for several weeks with a copy editor, Adrienne (not her name), who was quiet, bookish, introverted and–like a good copy editor–extremely precise. My erstwife privately mocked Adrienne because she was so conservative and colorless, right down to how she dressed and wore her hair.

    As the two women continued to work together, Adrienne began talking about her private life. She finally explained that she loved two men equally, both of whom adored her. Rather than choosing, Adrienne would live with one for several years, then move in with the other for several years. That pattern repeated for decades until one of her husbands died. I’ve never seen that story in literature, although the film Jules and Jim comes very close.

    I laugh at the memory of my erstwife’s astonishment when she discovered that side of her copy editor. Pacing the room, she practically roared, “ADRIENNE? Can you BELIEVE it? Mousy little Adrienne?!?” People can surprise you.

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  10. back in high school i had a memorable english teacher who basically pulled me out of english class and suggested i write my own cirriculleum for the 12th grade english (maybe it was 11th) i said ok and he wanted me to read mark twain or faulkner or english literature. i wanted to read hesse he said that would not work so i went over his head and got a different teacher to act as my facilitator. ineeded hesse at the moment. siddheartha, narcissis and goldmund, beneath the wheel, demian , gertrude, the glass bead game …all stories of searching for the true meaning of life. i was the main charachter in each, on my quest for the nirvanna,
    i used to think everybody goes through the same stuff just in different ways at different times. it now seems obvious to me that isnt so. everyone has their own path and i will not choose your path now will you choose mine. all the decisions and which books and how you absorb the message is all based on the brain you pour it into. soe think about it some roll out of bed and life just is what they find down the road a piece. like identifying with archie in the comic books. jughead may have been a little too close for comfort.

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    1. There is something about Hesse’s writing that is spellbinding. He had an extraordinary mind, no doubt about it, but I often felt conflicted reading his work. It’s been forty years since I’ve ready anything by him; it may be time to revisit and see how I feel about it now.

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    1. change the names to protect the innocent and spin away renee. your writing style would be a kick to read about the hard scrabble life in the plaines of nodak in the millenium

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  11. Since I usually read to escape from my ordinary life, I don’t usually think about how people I know correspond to a book’s character. However, some of Alexander McCall Smith’s male characters who are egotistical and full of themselves to the point of ridiculousness remind me of some guys I know. Not a one-on-one correlation, but the the similarity is there. I remember reading one book in the Professor Dr von Igelfeld series: Prof. Dr. von Igelfeld is such a pompous ass that it seemed impossible that a real person could be like that…and yet I recognized that characterization as something I’ve seen in real people. Not to the same degree, but the core of it was true to life.

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  12. It’s mighty quiet in here today. I suppose all you Baboons are out ice fishing while it is still safe to walk on frozen lakes. My comment for the moment is that there might be life after death. PJ tells us another Pat Conroy book is on its way. I just learned that Tony Hillerman, may he rest in peace, is still writing. Or at least his daughter is. She has created two books in the Leahorn Chee vein that have been well received.

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      1. i commented yesterday as i walked around my new neighbor lake that had been strong enough to have a truck or two on 14 days ago that i was surprise that there was 10 feet of open water when i did my walkabout. i have a little 100 foot long pond out in the back yard and the ice went from thick and white to brown and grungy to really grungy and ready to hit the spring mode button.
        we used to anticipate the snowstorms during the high school tournaments. it was a rule. lots of rules that were in place when i was a kid are gone. march in like a lion out like a lamb is gone as those norskie accents that were everywhere when i was a kid.

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  13. I think I tend to gravitate toward books that have characters that are nothing like anyone I know. Harriet the Spy was a book I loved as a kid. Harriet and her parents were so totally unlike my family, and I didn’t know anyone like Janey or Sport, and certainly no one like Ole Golly.

    I think Annie Proulx appeals to me for the same reason.

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  14. Gee, Edith, that pie looks good enough to eat. 🙂

    I usually say my favorite it pecan pie (smothered in real whipped cream). But memory reminds me that when I visited the Florida Keys I acquired an instant obsession with Key lime pie. Oh my.

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    1. Steve, that pie (galette) was indeed good enough to eat. All the fruit was homegrown – I grew the red currants and raspberries and the cherries came from a neighbor’s tree.

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