Death of Santini (Conroy)

The Death of Santini:  The Story of a Father and His Son
Pat Conroy, 2013
Knopf Doubleday
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385530903



Summary
In this powerful and intimate memoir, the beloved bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and his father, the inspiration for The Great Santini, find some common ground at long last.

Pat Conroy’s father, Donald Patrick Conroy, was a towering figure in his son’s life. The Marine Corps fighter pilot was often brutal, cruel, and violent; as Pat says, "I hated my father long before I knew there was an English word for 'hate.'" As the oldest of seven children who were dragged from military base to military base across the South, Pat bore witness to the toll his father’s behavior took on his siblings, and especially on his mother, Peg. She was Pat’s lifeline to a better world—that of books and culture. But eventually, despite repeated confrontations with his father, Pat managed to claw his way toward a life he could have only imagined as a child.

Pat’s great success as a writer has always been intimately linked with the exploration of his family history. While the publication of The Great Santini brought Pat much acclaim, the rift it caused with his father brought even more attention. Their long-simmering conflict burst into the open, fracturing an already battered family. But as Pat tenderly chronicles here, even the oldest of wounds can heal. In the final years of Don Conroy’s life, he and his son reached a rapprochement of sorts. Quite unexpectedly, the Santini who had freely doled out physical abuse to his wife and children refocused his ire on those who had turned on Pat over the years. He defended his son’s honor.

The Death of Santini is at once a heart-wrenching account of personal and family struggle and a poignant lesson in how the ties of blood can both strangle and offer succor. It is an act of reckoning, an exorcism of demons, but one whose ultimate conclusion is that love can soften even the meanest of men, lending significance to one of the most-often quoted lines from Pat’s bestselling novel The Prince of Tides: “In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.” (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—October 26, 1945
Where—Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Education—B.A., The Citadel
Currently—lives in San Francisco, California, and Fripp
  Island, South, Carolina


Pat Conroy was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to a young career military officer from Chicago and a Southern beauty from Alabama, whom Pat often credits for his love of language. He was the first of seven children.

His father was a violent and abusive man, a man whose biggest mistake, Conroy once said, was allowing a novelist to grow up in his home, a novelist "who remembered every single violent act... my father's violence is the central fact of my art and my life." Since the family had to move many times to different military bases around the South, Pat changed schools frequently, finally attending the Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, upon his father's insistence. While still a student, he wrote and then published his first book, The Boo, a tribute to a beloved teacher.

After graduation, Conroy taught English in Beaufort, where he met and married a young woman with two children, a widow of the Vietnam War. He then accepted a job teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, a remote island off the South Carolina shore. After a year, Pat was fired for his unconventional teaching practices—such as his unwillingness to allow corporal punishment of his students—and for his general lack of respect for the school's administration. Conroy evened the score when he exposed the racism and appalling conditions his students endured with the publication of The Water is Wide in 1972. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was made into the feature film Conrack, starring Jon Voight.

Writings
Following the birth of a daughter, the Conroys moved to Atlanta, where Pat wrote his novel, The Great Santini, published in 1976. This autobiographical work, later made into a powerful film starring Robert Duvall, explored the conflicts of his childhood, particularly his confusion over his love and loyalty to an abusive and often dangerous father.

The publication of a book that so painfully exposed his family's secret brought Conroy to 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, racism and sexism. This book, too, was made into a feature film.

Pat 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 made into a highly successful feature film directed by Barbra Streisand, who also starred in the film opposite Nick Nolte, whose brilliant 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. The story took place in South Carolina and Rome, and also reached back in time to the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. This book, too, was a tremendous international bestseller.

While on tour for Beach Music, members of Conroy's Citadel basketball team began appearing, one by one, at his book signings around the country. When his then-wife served him divorce papers while he was still on the road, Conroy realized that his team members had come back into his life just when he needed them most. And so 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 flashbacks of his childhood and insights into his early aspirations as a writer, is My Losing Season, Conroy's seventh book and his first work of nonfiction since The Water is Wide.

South of Broad, published in 2009, 14 years after Beach Music, tells the story of friendships, first formed in high school, that span two decades.

In 2013, Conroy published his memoir, The Death of Santini, in which he revealed in greater detail his childhool and family life,  especially the brutality of his father. Eventually, however, before his father's death, Pat and his father achieved peace, and Pat learned to forgive.

He currently lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina with his wife, the novelist Cassandra King. (Adapted from the author's website and Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews
The Death of Santini instantly reminded me of the decadent pleasures of [Conroy's] language, of his promiscuous gift for metaphor and of his ability, in the finest passages of his fiction, to make the love, hurt or terror a protagonist feels seem to be the only emotion the world could possibly have room for, the rightful center of the trembling universe.... Conroy’s conviction pulls you fleetly through the book, as does the potency of his bond with his family, no matter their sins, their discord, their shortcomings.
Frank Bruni - New York Times


Despite the inherently bleak nature of so much of this material, Conroy has fashioned a memoir that is vital, large-hearted and often raucously funny. The result is an act of hard-won forgiveness, a deeply considered meditation on the impossibly complex nature of families and a valuable contribution to the literature of fathers and sons.
Washington Post


Conroy remains a brilliant storyteller, a master of sarcasm, and a hallucinatory stylist whose obsession with the impress of the past on the present binds him to Southern literary tradition.
Boston Globe


Conroy has the reflective ability that comes only with age. He has a deeper understanding of his father and the havoc he brought to his family.…But against the backdrop of ugliness and pain, Conroy also describes a certain kind of love, even forgiveness.
Associated Press


Conroy writes athletically and beautifully, slicing through painful memories like a point guard splitting the defense….It is a fast but wrenching read, filled with madness and abuse, big-hearted description and snarky sibling dialogue—all as Conroy comes to terms with what he calls "the weird-ass ruffled strangeness of the Conroy family."
Minneapolis Star Tribune

 
A heady, irresistible confusion of love and hate, "one more night flight into the immortal darkness to study that house of pain one more time," to prove how low his princes and princesses of Tides can sink and how high they can soar. True Conroy fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


In several of his 12 previous books, bestseller Conroy mined his brutal South Carolina childhood—most directly in the book that became a 1979 hit movie, The Great Santini, about a violent fighter pilot and his defiant son. In this memoir, the 68-year-old sheds the fictional veil, taking "one more night flight into the immortal darkness to study that house of pain a final time." The result is a painful, lyrical, addictive read that his fans won’t want to miss. (3.5 stars out of 4.)
People


While the intent may have been to paint a more honest picture of his parents, Conroy only shows himself to be insecure about the legacy of his books.... [and this one is] rendered in histrionic sappy prose. In the end his picture of the Conroy clan is one of deeply flawed people convinced the world is against them.
Publishers Weekly


In spite of the pain and cruelty [in his growing up years], there was forgiveness, and a mature friendship was realized between Conroy and his father before the latter’s death. Conroy’s eulogy concludes the book and is a fine summing-up of a compelling and readable portrait of a dysfunctional family.... Conroy’s many fans...will welcome it for its honesty, power, and humor. —Jay Freeman
Booklist


(Starred review.) In this memoir, Conroy unflinchingly reveals that his father, fighter pilot Donald Conroy, was actually much worse than the abusive Meechum in his novel.... Although his father's fearsome persona never really changed, Conroy learned to forgive.... It's an emotionally difficult journey that should lend fans of Conroy's fiction an insightful back story to his richly imagined characters. The moving true story of an unforgivable father and his unlikely redemption.
Kirkus Reviews



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