Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Just Jennifer

The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese Doubleday, October 29, 2013)

Pat Conroy is known to most as the author of best-selling novels such as Beach Music and The Prince of Tides as well as the semi-autobiographical novel The Great Santini; he is also a son and the eldest child of an abusive, dysfunctional family.  This is the memoir not only of Conroy’s journey through life but of his relationship to his mother, siblings and most importantly to his father.  Donald Patrick Conroy was a Marine fighter pilot who flew missions during World War II and Korea.  In his private life, Don Conroy was abusive and violent toward his wife and children, physically and emotionally.  Pat and his six brothers and sisters were raised in different military housing throughout the South (from where his mother came) and were, for the most part, estranged from his father’s Chicago family.  As Pat grows up, he tries to protect his family from his father’s brutal beatings and hateful outbursts, but at the same time he never seems to completely give up on his father, though it is often more out of a sense of familial responsibility and duty than an actual hope that his father will ever change.

When The Great Santini was published it caused such a rift with the entire family, it seemed unlikely that any of the family would ever have any sort of relationship with Pat again.  Strangely enough, the book-and later the movie (which coincided with the Conroy’s divorce) had the opposite effect on Santini (Conroy’s nickname from the Marines) as the two come to some sort of understanding and an uneasy truce.  Pat’s steadfast love for his family and the family for which he so desperately hoped is deconstructed through fear and hate and slowly, though never completely, rebuilt, reminding everyone, no matter how imperfect we may be, we are still family.

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