Praise God, we live in the world with Pat Conroy

You know how last week I wrote about what a great week I was having, and how surely I would be paid back for my hubris? Well, payback really IS a bitch and this week I’ve been slapped around all over Detroit. How come I never remember that pride really does commeth before the fall? Instead of engaging in a “I’m right, you’re wrong” pissing match with those around me, I instead have returned to working on the novel and the short story collection.  The plan for my novel is to outline and research until January, write a first draft from January to Memorial Day, leave it for the summer, revise Labor Day until Christmas, and query in January of 2008.  Since I’m in the research/outlining stage (which my writing group thinks is procrastination but I feel is very necessary since my plot is terribly confused) I turned to my favorite novel of all time (Beach Music) to seek some enlightenment. I ask you this, how can you not keep reading, after the following introductory paragraph?

In 1980, a year after my wife leapt to her death from the Silas Pearlman Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, I moved to Italy to begin life anew, taking our small daughter with me.  Our sweet Leah was not quite two when my wife, Shyla, stopped her car on the highest point of the bridge and looked over, for the last time, the city she loved so well.  She had put on the emergency brake and opened the door of our car, then lifted herself up to the rail of the bridge with the delicacy and enigmatiic grace that was always Shyla’s catlike gift.  She was also quick-witted and funny, but she carried within her a dark side that she hid with bright allusions and an irony as finely wrought as lace.   She had so mastered the strategies of camouflage that her own history had seemed a series of well-placed mirrors that kept her hidden from herself.

From that paragraph, we learn so much – the voice of the narrator, where he’s living, and with whom, where he lived beforehand, and the catalystic event that begins the narrative.  In the following paragraph we learn that Shyla

had always prided herself in keeping her madness invisible and at bay; and when she could no longer fend off the voices that grew inside her, their evil set to chaos in a minor key, her breakdown enfolded upon her like a tarpaulin pulled across that part of her brain where once there had been light.

When he writes about Rome, Conroy is at his very best –

At six in the morning, the man at the newspaper stand arrives and begins arranging magazines beneath his canopy.  Then a truck enters the piazza from the east carrying bales of Il Messaggero and other morning papers.  The two carabinieri who guard the entrance to the French Embassy switch on the lights of their jeep to begin their slow perfunctory circling of the Palazzo CFarnese….while it is still dark beneath the annealed stars and low-seated moon a nun opens the small steel gate in front of the Church of Santa Brigida, an act signfiying that Mass is about to start…

I read this book the summer after my junior year of college, and I completed it while visiting my parents. I remember shutting it and saying to my dad “If I could write like that, I would be a writer,” and he responded, “You can be a writer like that. You just need to write, every day.” And since I’ve read it, even when I thought I would be an actress instead, I did try to write, at least a little something, every day. I may never be at Conroy’s caliber, but it comforts me, in the midst of cranky coworkers and crisis-management meetings, that his words exist in the same world I do.

I read in an interview with him that creating Beach Music nearly drove him to suicide, and it saddens me to think that the resulting novel which has provided me with joy, comfort and purpose  while for the author, it was nearly self-sacrificial. But still, I will be forever thankful he wrote it, anyway.

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7 Responses to Praise God, we live in the world with Pat Conroy

  1. Dorothy W. says:

    Sorry about the rough week! Glad you can find some literary solace 🙂

  2. Cam says:

    I’ve never read Beach Music, although a women in my reading group has always claimed that this is her most favorite book ever read. From that first paragraph, I can get a hint as to why. Maybe some day I’ll get this one read. And who wouldn’t aspire to write something as beautiful as that?

  3. litlove says:

    I’ve never read any Pat Conroy either, (and it sounds wonderful) but do you know what you personally love about his style, Courtney? If you could figure out what it is in his writing that moves you, then you’d be a step closer to injecting that quality into your own work, no? Not that you don’t write beautifully anyway.

  4. Pingback: The Art of a Great Writer « Tales from the Reading Room

  5. bloglily says:

    Your father sounds like such a wise person — how lucky you are to have counsel like that. Sometimes, with just the right writer, it’s possible to get inspiration and advice from them, simply by reading them with your current writing question in mind. Still, I also find it difficult to read writers I admire. When they do something utterly beautiful, something I’d never have thought to do, it can be an impoverishing experience. I suppose that’s why,when I read while I’m deep into writing, I read for advice rather than for beauty, because I cannot duplicate what’s already been done in creating the latter.

  6. Emily says:

    Distraction from THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE is why I very nearly failed calculus my first year in college. I imagine Conroy could inspire even those who aren’t natural-born story tellers to put pen do paper, huh?

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