Saturday, March 5, 2016
RIP PAT CONROY
I am very down and dejected. Sad for the loss to literature of the great Southern writer Pat Conroy, and grieving because there will be no more marvelous tales from this storytelling genius. Of all the wonderful writers whose works I have spent pleasurable time, his stories touched me the most, produced characters and observations that were most-closely familiar to my own life. Not only that, but he helped form my thinking on many subjects, from family relations to politics, and even racial issues (and later even the difficulties of dealing with a mentally ill spouse). My Mom knew who I was and my outlook on life, a misfit among my southern classmates and even my family, and when I was in high school she handed me a copy of The Great Santini,. "You should read this," she said. In it I found the author I would love the most and who spoke directly to my heart and mind, someone who helped express the tribulations of being the eldest child to a military officer, a person both feared and admired, and yes, loved, whose bearing and personality (and antiquated understanding of how a boy should be molded) most heavily weighed on my childhood. I ferreted out a copy of The Boo and then The Water is Wide, the latter fitting in nicely with my questioning of unfair racial treatment of African Americans and a companion book to John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me. If I could be a writer, I thought, I'd like to write like Conroy. The Lords of Discipline I devoured in one sitting, I think. What a great story that was. I liked his later fiction too, perhaps not as much as as earlier books, but still they held me and often wrung me out, with beautiful language, compelling stories, and often very personal passages. I waited anxiously for his next volume. His later memoirs were marvelous; then I finally picked up his cookbook, and that proved to be just as good as they rest of his writing. He laid his life bare. He acknowledged his faults, exorcised his demons, and yet you still felt that he deeply loved his troubled family, each and every one of them. Last week I got to peruse some of his papers and I was told of his illness, that it was truly serious. And then came the news this morning that he had passed. One of the greatest moments for me was getting to meet him, shaking his hand and exchanging a few words after he had spoken at a remembrance for James Dickey. I am glad I met him. I will miss him, the world will miss him. He was so funny, and nice, and I know he touched many lives. Even more I will miss his stories. Rest in Peace Mr. Conroy.