March 11, 2016
Looking Back - Beach Music
Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.
I was so saddened to learn of Pat Conroy’s death last week and so I decided to jump ahead a few months with my Looking Back feature and share my thoughts about one of my all-time favorite books.
Beach Music by Pat Conroy
1995 Nan A. Talese Doubleday
Finished in September 1996
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)
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.
My Original Notes:
I think this has to be one of the very best books I've ever read. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. I want to read everything Pat Conroy has ever written. He writes the most beautiful sentences and I felt like I could see, hear, taste and smell everything he described. The characters became a part of me. I laughed. I cried. What a beautiful, lyrical book. I recommend it to everyone. Rod read it in a few days and enjoyed it, too.
My Current Thoughts:
As I grow older, my list of all-time favorite books grows by leaps and bounds. I have read dozens and dozens of 5-star books and would be hard-pressed to name my lifetime Top Ten. However, if it came down to it, Beach Music would most definitely be on that lifetime list. It is one of the first examples of lyrical writing I ever encountered and I can still picture scene after scene twenty years later. This is one of those books that I have always wanted to re-read, but have been afraid to, worrying that it may not live up to my expectations the second time around. I downloaded the audio edition, thinking I'd try going that route for a second reading, but now that Conroy has passed away, I think I'd like to honor his memory, his talent, and his craft and give the book another reading.
I have only read three of Conroy's novels: Beach Music, The Great Santini and South of Broad. I've watched The Prince of Tides, but have never read the novel. One book I'd really want to read is My Reading Life, which was published in 2010.
I stumbled upon this blog entry of Conroy's (from his website, dated October 22, 2015) and it brought tears to my eyes:
Conroy at 70 - Happy Birthday To Me...
But the subject of death is a frequent one among my friends these days. Terry Kay, the novelist, has announced his demise on a daily basis for the last twenty years. I’ve worried about my friend Anne Rivers Siddons’ health for the last five years. My wife Cassandra is a member of the Hemlock Society and hides potions in her closet I’m not to ask about on pain of divorce court. My irreplaceable friend Doug Marlette died in his fifties in a Mississippi car wreck. Jane Lefco, who took care of my finances, died of an embolism while still beautiful and young. My brother Tim killed himself at 34. I lost eight classmates in the Vietnam war and four of them were boys I loved.
So this number has deep resonance and I’m taking it more seriously than I ever thought I would. It strikes a biblical chord in me. The town of Beaufort is throwing me a birthday party.
Rest in peace, Pat. I'm so sorry we will no longer have a new book of yours to look forward to. Thank you for enriching my life through your beautiful words.
About the Author (from his website):
Pat Conroy, born in Atlanta in 1945, was the first of seven children of a young career military officer from Chicago and a Southern beauty from Alabama, to whom Pat often credits for his love of language. The Conroys moved frequently to military bases throughout the South, with Conroy eventually attending The Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, where, as a student, he published his first book, The Boo, a tribute to a beloved teacher. Following graduation, Conroy taught English in Beaufort, where he met and married a young mother of two children who had been widowed during the Vietnam War.
He soon took a job teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island off the South Carolina shore but, after a year, was fired for his unconventional teaching practices – such as his refusal to allow corporal punishment of his students – and for his personal differences with the school's administration. Conroy was never to teach again but he evened the score by exposing the racism and appalling conditions his students endured with the publication of a memoir, The Water is Wide published in 1972. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was made into the feature film Conrack.
Following the birth of a daughter, the Conroys moved to Atlanta, where Pat wrote his novel, The Great Santini, published in 1976, and later made into a film starring Robert Duvall, that explored the conflicts of the author's childhood, particularly his ambivalent love for his violent and abusive father. The publication of a book that so painfully exposed his family's secret brought Conroy a period of tremendous personal desolation. This crisis resulted not only in his divorce, but the divorce of his parents; his mother presented a copy of The Great Santini to the judge as "evidence" in divorce proceedings against his father.
The Citadel became the subject of his next novel, The Lords of Discipline, published in 1980. The novel exposed the school's harsh military discipline and racism.
Conroy remarried and moved from Atlanta to Rome, where he began The Prince of Tides, which, when published in 1986, became his most successful book. Reviewers immediately acknowledged Conroy as a master storyteller and a poetic and gifted prose stylist. This novel has become one of the most beloved novels of modern time. With over five million copies in print, it has earned Conroy an international reputation. The Prince of Tides was later made into a highly successful feature film directed by and starring Barbra Streisand, as well as actor Nick Nolte, whose performance won him an Oscar nomination.
Beach Music (1995), Conroy's sixth book, was the story of Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife's suicidal leap off a bridge in South Carolina. While he was on tour for Beach Music, members of his Citadel basketball team began appearing, one by one, at his book signings around the country, Conroy realized that his team members had come back into his life just when he needed them most. He began reconstructing his senior year, his last year as an athlete, and the 21 basketball games that changed his life. The result of these recollections, along with his insights into his early aspirations as a writer, became My Losing Season.
Conroy's fifth novel and ninth book, South of Broad offers readers a love letter to the city of Charleston. It also presents a Conroy first: a totally lovable father in the character of Leo Bloom King, the story's central figure.
He followed the novel with The Pat Conroy Cookbook. His next book, My Reading Life, published in 2010, is a celebration of reading and the books that most influenced him. In his next book, The Death of Santini, a memoir scheduled to be published on October 30, 2013, Conroy revisits one last time his tortured family, where he describes his father's surprising evolution into a father he could finally love.