Our esteemed southern author penned The Great Santini, his third book in 1976…a novel made into a film starring Robert Duvall and Blythe Danner. It showed without blinders what it’s like being raised as an army brat traipsing around the world with a tough, abusive father. (Conroy also wrote The Prince of Tides, made into a film with Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte).
The Death of Santini, his eleventh book, comes full circle as he sheds his skin admitting what he attempted initially to veil.
His dad, Don, when The Great Santini came out was so hurt and outraged at what he read ended up sitting next to his eldest son at book signings like a military movie star.
You witness the relationship of father and son evolve from heated hatred to love as just one more testament to how the heart has the last say.
Pat’s mom Peg, bounds off the page as a proud, doting, tormented mother who, despite their ups and downs, truly adored her son.
After finishing the book, I felt as if I knew her as she embellished her childhood emerging more Scarlett O’Hara than the poor little girl she actually was.
As I told my friend Ed who also read this exceptional book, rather than upset it filled me with bliss proving one can truly rise above their origins since I too come from anything but idyllic beginnings.
Mr. Conroy’s memoir begins in 1963 at his high school graduation up to the present, his prose top-notch straight through.
I’m humbled actually…encouraged to know such talent could be sifted from those early ashes that might have wrecked him forever, like his youngest brother Tom who tragically, in his 30s, hurled himself from a roof.
He dedicates The Death of Santini to Tom and his other five siblings who accompany him throughout coming to life to the point where you think they’re in your room.
A memoir writer who can’t be brutally honest with his or her audience shouldn’t bother. A good reader can smell when they’re holding back, feeling cheated, angered by their hedging.
In other words, spill your guts or don’t waste our time, and no one ever said, it would be easy.
Pat Conroy’s intestines line my apartment. There’s anger mixed with sadness, forgiveness and grace while candor rides the crest of each paragraph producing such reverence for a soul brave enough to share his mortal suffering. Made me feel if I ever were to write my own life story, I too could be as bold.
For a long time, I thought I was born into a mythology instead of a family. My father thundered out of the sky in black-winged fighter planes, every inch of him a god of war. My mother’s role was goddess of light and harmony…an Arcadian figure spinning through the grasses of wildflowers on long, hot summer days. Peg Peck and Don Conroy brought the mean South and hurt Ireland to each other’s bloodstreams….
My family is my portion of hell, my eternal flame, my fate and my time on the cross…
I’ve got to try to make sense of it one last time, a final circling of the block, a reckoning, another dive into the caves of the coral reef where the morays wait in ambush, one more night flight into the immortal darkness to study that house of pain a final time. Then I’ll be finished with you Mom and Dad. I’ll leave you in peace and not bother you again. And I’ll pray that your stormy spirits find peace in the house of the Lord. But I must examine the wreckage one one last time.