In tenth grade when I discovered Ernest Hemingway’s stripped down writing style, I stumbled upon contemporary author Pat Conroy. I actually enjoyed the film version of The Great Santini before I realized who wrote the novel on which it was based. In his novels, Conroy struggles to come to terms with his real-life Marine fighter-pilot father and the South being Southern-born. I may have connected with this aspect of his novels as, in tenth grade, I lived in Conroy’s native South Carolina (but I was Northern-born). Conroy’s current memoir, The Death of Santini, takes his readers (and fans) through the writing of The Great Santini, the making of the film version and his adult life with his father (on whom Bull Meecham of The Great Santini is based). He includes a portrait of his six siblings, his mother and the extended family of both his parents. I found Conroy’s willingness to maintain a relationship with his father admirable based on the less than wonderful childhood Conroy uses as the background for most of his novels. At the same time, I have to give his family a little credit for still talking to Conroy (well, at least one of his family members doesn’t). I’m not sure I would take well to having my private life immortalized in my brother’s or son’s novels.
It’s not difficult to realize that Conroy’s writing provides a contrasting style to Hemingway’s; however, in tenth grade, I found them to be complimentary to each other. While the New York Times has not always been kind to Conroy’s work, I like his refusal to apologize for the way he writes:
There are other writers who try for subtle and minimalist effects, but I don’t travel with that tribe. I like to make people look up and see me walking the high wire without a net. That’s what I was born to do, and I almost ran to my writing desk every day, anxious and willing to have at it.
I think his efforts to walk a tight rope with his writing have paid off whether he’s writing novels or memoirs. For anyone who is a fan of his work, this book will be enjoyable. For anyone who has not read anything by Pat Conroy, I would not start with this book – start with The Great Santini.