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January 13, 2019

A Great American Author: Pat Conroy

by Susan Roberts

None of Pat Conroy's book turned up on the Great America Read book list.  If it had been the 'Susan Great American book list', his books would own the first three spots and the rest would be in the top 20.  Pat Conroy was my first real introduction to the genre of modern Southern Fiction.  He had a mastery of the language that pulled you into his stories so that you felt like you knew the characters and you could smell the salty air as you read.

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Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy. image from Goodreads
Southern literature is defined as American literature about the Southern United States or by writers from this region. Traditionally, the study of southern literature has emphasized a common Southern history, the significance of family, a sense of community and one’s role within it, a sense of justice, the region's dominant religion (Christianity — see Protestantism), and the burdens/rewards religion often brings, issues of racial tension, land and the promise it brings, a sense of social class and place, and the use of the Southern dialect.

Early life

Pat was a 'military brat' who changed schools every year until the family moved to Beaufort, SC when he was in high school.  He was the oldest of 7 children and his father, a Marine fighter pilot was physically and emotionally abusive to his wife and family.  Pat used his personal history as a basis for his fiction as well as writing about his family history in his non-fiction books.  Pat died in 2016 and is greatly missed by readers who loved his work.

His novels

1976: The Great Santini
1980: The Lords of Discipline
1986: The Prince of Tides
1995: Beach Music
2009: South of Broad
2013: The Death of Santini

Non-fiction books:
1970: The Boo
1972: The Water Is Wide
1999: The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life
2002: My Losing Season
2003: Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing up Global (contributing author)
 2010: My Reading Life
2013: The Death of Santini - This is a non-fiction book about his father.

I have read and loved all of Pat's books and met him three times at book events.  Here are my three favorite Pat Conroy novels.

The Prince of Tides

The Prince of Tides
In his most brilliant and powerful novel, Pat Conroy tells the story of Tom Wingo, his twin sister, Savannah, and the dark and violent past of the family into which they were born. Set in New York City and the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the novel opens when Tom, a high school football coach whose marriage and career are crumbling, flies from South Carolina to New York after learning of his twin sister's suicide attempt. Savannah is one of the most gifted poets of her generation, and both the cadenced beauty of her art and the jumbled cries of her illness are clues to the too-long-hidden story of her wounded family. In the paneled offices and luxurious restaurants of New York City, Tom and Susan Lowenstein, Savannah's psychiatrist, unravel a history of violence, abandonment, commitment, and love. And Tom realizes that trying to save his sister is perhaps his last chance to save himself. With passion and a rare gift of language, the author moves from present to past, tracing the amazing history of the Wingos from World War II through the final days of the war in Vietnam and into the 1980s, drawing a rich range of characters: the lovable, crazy Mr. Fruit, who for decades has wordlessly directed traffic at the same intersection in the southern town of Colleton; Reese Newbury, the ruthless, patrician land speculator who threatens the Wingos' only secure worldly possession, Melrose Island; Herbert Woodruff, Susan Lowenstein's husband, a world-famous violinist; Tolitha Wingo, Savannah's mentor and eccentric grandmother, the first real feminist in the Wingo family. Pat Conroy reveals the lives of his characters with surpassing depth and power, capturing the vanishing beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry and a lost way of life.

Prince of Tides was made into a movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbara Streisand in 1991.  It was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

Buy The Prince of Tides at Amazon

Beach Music

Beach Music
Pat Conroy is without doubt America's favorite storyteller, a writer who portrays the anguished truth of the human heart and the painful secrets of families in richly lyrical prose and unforgettable narratives. Now, in Beach Music, he tells of the dark memories that haunt generations, in a story that spans South Carolina and Rome and reaches back into the unutterable terrors of the Holocaust.

Beach Music is about Jack McCall, an American living in Rome with his young daughter, trying to find peace after the recent trauma of his wife's suicide. But his solitude is disturbed by the appearance of his sister-in-law, who begs him to return home, and of two school friends asking for his help in tracking down another classmate who went underground as a Vietnam protester and never resurfaced. These requests launch Jack on a journey that encompasses the past and the present in both Europe and the American South, and that leads him to shocking--and ultimately liberating--truths.

Told with deep feeling and trademark Conroy humor, Beach Music is powerful and compulsively readable. It is another masterpiece in the legendary list of classics that his body of work has already become.

Buy Beach Music at Amazon

South of Broad

South of Broad
Leopold Bloom King has been raised in a family shattered—and shadowed—by tragedy. Lonely and adrift, he searches for something to sustain him and finds it among a tightly knit group of outsiders. Surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, as well as Charleston, South Carolina’s dark legacy of racism and class divisions, these friends will endure until a final test forces them to face something none of them are prepared for.

Spanning two turbulent decades, South of Broad is Pat Conroy at his finest: a masterpiece from a great American writer whose passion for life and language knows no bounds.

Buy South of Broad at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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