Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Church of Conroy

When I fall into love with a book, I fall all the way. Quick. Deep. Immediate. Books are the only place where I do not use caution. The only time I cannonball instead of tiptoe.

On the other hand, I feel just the same when I find a book that does not wow me. I'm not a believer in "sticking it out" when I open a book and lose interest. Life is too short to trudge through a book you do not love.

I am a confirmed believer in the Church of Pat Conroy. I worship at the altar of his salt-soaked images and Southern charms. He is a mystic, a natural wonder, a sinner, a saint. He is a man who has been broken, and it is within his books that he searches for his cure. Each sentence is a blood-letting -- obscene and beautiful and raw. Each ending -- a prayer for his truth to be done.

My first visit with Conroy was The Prince of Tides. Although I've read it now at least a dozen times, there are moments I cannot help but hold my breath. Moments I cannot walk through all at once. Moments I cannot look away.

And while I loved this effort, it is his book, Beach Music, that I find myself carrying through my life. It is elegant and haunting in its unfolding. It is a love letter to forgiveness, both that which try to give to others and that which we withhold from ourselves. It's been a few years since I've read it, partly because I give each of my copies away before I can finish. 

I'm a firm believer in the idea that a writer writes what he knows, and Pat Conroy is no different. his personal demons appear in all of his stories. After studying his life and reading some of his interviews, this much is clear. Pain is the ink within his pen, and it has yet to run out. But there have been moments that it feels as it might.

“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”  -- Pat Conroy, Beach Music

Before the release of his last novel, South of Broad, I had read an entry whereupon Conroy talked often of both his failing health and his desire to write a few more novels. It was of little surprise that what came next was the only book of his that I did not love. In fact, I quit it on several occasions. It felt desperate in its connections. His villains more hateful. His heroes to heroic. It felt rushed and hollow. It was as if every terrible thing that could ever happen could be wished away by magic, and this is the antithesis of everything presented before.  It was a jumble of knots and crossed paths forced into a straight line, and straight lines simply will not do.

“No story is a straight line. The geometry of a human life is too imperfect and complex, too distorted by the laughter of time and the bewildering intricacies of fate to admit the straight line into its system of laws.” 

I did eventually finish South of Broad, and I have read it once more since. But the same copy I rushed out to buy on its publication date is the same that still sits upon my shelf. 

The only member of its church who has never ventured out of its own pew.

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