I was so very saddened to learn of Pat Conroy’s death on Friday, March 4, 2016. I have been reading his books for years. Many of us can only hope to be as good a writer as he was.
His characters seemed to come to life as he took us through the seasons of living in the low country with The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music (one of my favorites) South of Broad, The Death of Santini, The Boo, and others. Conroy’s prose was like no other’s. It was sensual, as smooth as silk, as fluid as the finest wine, and always, always, left us wanting more.
I would say that a majority of authors use their own families, friends, home towns, and/or personal experiences to frame their works of fiction. Pat Conroy suffered a miserable childhood with an abusive and domineering father whose children called him “Godzilla”, and a mother who taught her children to lie about her husband’s beating of her. His use of this life was far more thinly veiled to the people in his life — his childhood, college, and hometown — and this caused a deep rift in his family which, I’m told, has since healed. Conroy’s mother is said to have given a copy of The Great Santini to the judge in her divorce trial as evidence when asked about her estranged husband. While The Great Santini caused a rift in Conroy’s family, it also eventually brought about a change in Conroy’s father. The reconciliation was dramatized in The Death of Santini.
Additionally, for approximately 30 years, he was banned from the campus of The Citadel due to his revelations in The Boo and The Lords of Discipline. His novel, My Losing Season, about his years playing basketball at The Citadel, seems to have softened the attitudes of the authorities at the school toward him.
In 1995, Conroy was quoted by John Berendt for an article in Vanity Fair, as having said, “One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family. I don’t have to look very far for melodrama. It’s all right there.”
Ever gracious, Pat Conroy generously offered supportive comments on the novels of other writers. One of my favorite comments of his, shown on the covers of the books of others can be found on several books by Dorothea Benton Frank. It says, “Her books are funny, sexy, and usually damp with seawater.” Oh, to receive such a compliment from the great Pat Conroy.