Pat Conroy is part of a long tradition of Southern writers whose fiction is ultimately molded and informed by and rooted in the South -- with all that that implies about a strong military tradition, relations between blacks and whites, a sense of history and family, and "over-real" characters. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Garry Abrams notes that "misfortune has been good to novelist Pat Conroy. It gave him a family of disciplinarians, misfits, eccentrics, liars, and loudmouths. It gave him a Southern childhood in which the bizarre competed with the merely strange. It gave him a military school education apparently imported from Sparta by way of Prussia. It gave him a divorce and a breakdown followed by intensive therapy. It gave him everything he needed to write bestsellers, make millions, and live in Rome."
There is little question
that most of Pat Conroy's fiction is quasi-autobiographical. But that in no way
diminishes its power. Filtering his life through his prodigious storytelling
talents enables Conroy to produce lyrical, imaginative, even poetic stories that
undoubtedly have a much greater impact because they owe so much to real-life
experiences and characters. Conroy doesn't write thinly veiled romans à clef.
Instead, he uses real people and situations as catalysts to produce entertaining
fiction that manages to capture their essential truths.
Pat Conroy's father was a nuke-carrying Marine Corps pilot whose job was to "clear the air of MiGs" in the event of a war with Cuba. His mother, Frances Dorothy Conroy, a gracious Southern lady with a spine of steel, was called "Peggy" all her life in honor of Margaret Mitchell. Her death prompted Conroy to write Beach Music, during which he discovered that he had been raised by "one of the most beautiful, Machiavellian and craftiest women ever to come out of the South, a woman who had a family history she continuously lied about. My mother was the first fiction writer in the family."
Conroy's first job
was teaching English at a Beaufort, SC high school. He then tried to get into
the Peace Corps. But the position he wanted failed to materialize, so he took a
job teaching illiterate black children in a one-room schoolhouse on remote
Daufuskie Island off the South Carolina coast. His account of the experience, The
Water Is Wide, became the movie Conrack starring Jon Voight.
His poet sister
hasn't spoken to him since the publication of The Prince of Tides, a
novel featuring a female poet who has a breakdown similar to the one his sister
experienced. When The Great Santini appeared, with its unlikable main
character modeled on Conroy's father, his paternal grandparents told him they
never wanted to see him or his children again. On the other hand, Conroy's
mother submitted a copy of the book to the judge as evidence during her divorce
An early manuscript
of Beach Music included a scene in which a character based on Conroy's
brother Tom commits suicide. In August 1994, Tom Conroy, a diagnosed paranoid
schizophrenic, did indeed commit suicide. Pat Conroy was devastated and removed
the scene from his book.
After writing the preface
for the 60th anniversary edition of Gone With the Wind in 1996, Conroy
became the leading candidate to write the sequel to Alexandra Ripley's hugely
successful 1991 GWTW sequel, Scarlett. But instead of a sequel,
Conroy proposed to write a companion novel called The Rules of Pride: The
Autobiography of Capt. Rhett Butler, C.S.A., for which he was to have been
paid $4.5 million. The deal fell through in early 1999, a victim of
disagreements over royalty percentages, fees, and ultimate editorial control.
The Boo (1970)
The Water is Wide (1972)
The Great Santini (1976)
The Lords of Discipline (1980)
The Prince of Tides (1986)
Beach Music (1995)