Thank you so very much to Edelweiss and Doubleday for the ability of reading The Death of Santini before it’s release later this October. I do have this on hold for me as well at the library, and I’ll keep that hold because there are supposed to be photographs in the book that did not appear on the e-reader.
I have had a lengthy love affair with the writing of Pat Conroy. The Prince of Tides remains one of my all-time favourite novels (NOT the movie!). I can still remember vividly sitting in my room in my late teens reading this with either tears streaming down my face or laughing out loud. I of course have read Beach Music, South of Broad, The Great Santini, etc. So when I found out that a final book featuring his noted father, aka “The Great Santini” was forthcoming I awaited anxiously.
From the first two sentences of this tale I was all in. You almost have to thank his family, and his father for being so righteously messed up because without it we wouldn’t be treated to the power, glory and wonder of Pat Conroy’s gift. That man can write his way out of a paper bag.
In The Death of Santini, Conroy is writing another memoir of sorts, or a book that will help him try to make sense and come to terms with his family, and, in particular, his father; the subject appearing in many, many of his novels. Of course, writing these novels all began with his father and The Great Santini. This book is written in memory of this great man in attempts to reconcile with the person that, while horrifyingly abusive, is the only man known to him as his father. Unfortunately for the seven Conroy children, their father was a triple whammy of fury: a marine, an air force pilot and Irish.
“The happiest years of my childhood were when Dad went to war to kill the enemies of America. Every time my father took off in an airplane, I prayed that plane would crash and his body be consumed by fire. For thirty-one years, this is how I felt about him. Then I tore my whole family apart with my novel about him, The Great Santini.”
The chapter on his writing of The Great Santini is a very emotional and powerful one. The fictional rendering of this incredibly abusive man that raised him took an incredible emotional toll on him. It caused multiple breakdowns. As well, the fury of which his family unleashes on him is also incredible. (I need a new word.)
“We’re ruined, son. You stabbed your own family right through the heart.”
“But the story kept rolling, and I could not stop or impede its toll. I thought I was telling a story that had never been told in the history of American literature.”
Aside from regaling sometimes horrifying tales of the abuse his father doled out on to his mother, himself and his siblings, The Death of Santini also seems to be more of a cathartic release about his broken down family and his acrimonious relationship with his siblings. The sister that is featured prominently in The Prince of Tides, Carol, remains a highly dysfunctional relationship filled with hatred. They can go decades without speaking. The youngest brother (whom I’m convinced is The Prince of Tides”) killed himself by jumping off a building. Many of these tales of his family are woven throughout this book that explains how Pat worked to form some kind of relationship with his father. In the end, it was one filled with respect for a great and enigmatic man. The book closes with the eulogy written and spoken at Don “The Great Santini” Conroy’s funeral.
While stunningly written in classic Conroy prose, there are some times that he goes on about himself, and he seemingly glosses over his own role as a father and a husband (3x over) as well as his infidelity. He remains however married and devoted to fellow Southern writer, Cassandra King.
I of course gobbled this book up and can only hope and pray we can receive the gift of at least one more novel from the Great Conroy?
4 stars for The Death of Santini. Now I have to sit tight until the end of October for the hardcover to come out, which I will more than likely be adding to my permanent collection of Conroy novels, so that I can pour over the photographs and place the faces to the names.