Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Booklist Review: As is the case with so many likely best-sellers, the publisher of Pat Conroy's new novel did not distribute advance galleys to prepublication review media, ensuring that by the time you read this review, library patrons will already be clamoring for the opportunity to weep their way through another melodramatic extravaganza from the author of "The Prince of Tides" (1987). They won't be disappointed. Conroy evolves from the Margaret Mitchell school of southern writing, where everything must be Big--the smartest, most beautiful people on the planet living the biggest lives on the grandest sets and, of course, wracked by the greatest tragedies. It's all here in the story of Jack McCall of Waterford, South Carolina, his five brothers, drunken father, white-trash mother, and Holocaust-surviving in-laws. Nothing small happens in this book: the McCalls' story is played out against World War II, Auschwitz, the sixties, and, of course, the South in all its triumph and tragedy. Even the little moments are big in their way: the best cup of cappuccino, the most beautiful southern evening, the freshest shrimp, the most precocious kid. And yet, sneer as we will, we also must admit that Conroy plays the high-concept game as well as anyone. Like Mitchell, he builds narrative momentum that is impossible to resist, and he writes with a hammy eloquence that, while often infuriating, fits his subject matter perfectly. You won't stop reading, but you'll hate yourself in the morning. ((Reviewed July 1995)) -- Bill Ott

Bill Ott’s review is right on—Conroy’s novels are melodramatic, feature larger-than-life characters, and lay the emotional baggage on heavy. And while his eloquence dips into the overdone, there is a richness and a lush melancholy that sucks you in. Jack, the novel’s main character, is almost too obstinate and swaggering in his views at times, but I appreciated his humor, his expatriate perspectives on America, his religious ambivalence and the love and hope that he shares with his daughter. It took me far too long to read this, and while I felt I was neglecting other books, I just couldn’t stop. Conroy makes the pain, confusion and complications of family life strangely compulsive. And his resolutions and the realizations that his characters arrive at are deeply satisfying without being chintzy or slight. The themes of suicide, depression, family violence both figurative and literal, of belonging to self and place, and learning how to love all get explored with the belief that the difficulties and horrors that life sets in front of us can be overcome if we are willing to take chances and to spend the years of hard work it takes to reconcile ourselves to ourselves and to rescue some of our dreams from the refuse.

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