Friday, May 11, 2012

Confessions of a Bookworm-Pat Conroy

There are a lot of "favorites" on my list of authors.  Some of these authors write one flaming meteor of a book and are never able to duplicate this glory and you wonder where their muse is hiding.   Others manage to write many wonderful stories.  Years ago, a dear friend from my college days, Tim, introduced me to the author, Pat Conroy.

 He had just finished "The Lords of Discipline,"

and encouraged my husband and I to read this incredible work based on Mr. Conroy's experiences at the Citadel,  established as the Military College of South Carolina in 1842. The novel exposed the school's harsh military discipline, racism, and sexism during a time when segregation was coming under attack from many quarters as this nation moved away from its shameful past of accepting slavery as a way of life.  "Pat Conroy sweeps us into the turbulent world of four young men—friends, cadets, and blood brothers—and their days of hazing, heartbreak, pride, betrayal, and, ultimately, humanity." 
Since we both could not read the book at the same time, another friend lent me her copy of "Prince of Tides"
"I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton; my arms were tawny and strong from working long days on the shrimp boat in the blazing South Carolina heat...I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders. As a boy I was happy above the channels, navigating a small boat between the sandbars with their quiet nation of oysters exposed on the brown flats at the low watermark. I knew every shrimper by name, and they knew me and sounded their horns when they passed me fishing in the river."  From the book.  In this best-selling 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.

Both of these books introduced me to a South that I had never experienced.  Although my parents moved to Atlanta in my senior year of high school, I only spent one summer there.  I was unhappy away from both my beloved New Mexico and my friends, and I resisted all the charms of this lovely Southern city.  Pat Conroy changed those feelings and I hope to return to visit this strange and foreign land sometime again.  I fell in love with the south and its troubled, complicated social expectations through Mr. Conroy's descriptions and his deft creation of characters that you both love and hate.

Recently, I picked up another of his novels, "South of Broad"

which revisits some of the themes that Conroy explored in previous books.  Suicide, this time, the suicide of the main character, Leo's thirteen year old brother, is the framework in which Leo struggles to recover and begin again to led his life.  Enter another set of twins to engage our sympathies.  Reader's prejudices are challenged as we witness the transformation of a loutish high school bully into a football team mate and life-long friend.  Leo's friends challenge the norms of the day. He forms an alliance with the first black coach.  The coach's son learns to trust Leo and as co-captains, they lead their team to statewide victories.  Surprisingly, the father in this novel is a warm, supportive and wise man.  In previous novels, Conroy had explored his ambivalent love of his own abusive and dangerous father in his portrayals of fathers.   As always, his characters are complex with both flaws and gifts with whom the reader can identify.  Lush descriptions make you feel the humidity and smell the marches.  The reader is invited to struggle with the great issue of one's faith as Leo plumb's the depths of despair and disbelief and returns to the church from which he ultimately draws comfort and strength.

At the end, you are left wanting to know what will happen next, especially with the main character's relationship with his mother, a former Roman Catholic nun who leaves the convent to marry and returns there many years later after her husband's death.

While not garnering the critical acclaim that some of his earlier novels did, this book kept me totally engaged, wanting more, and Conroy stays on my favorite author's list.

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