Initially, it was the Wendell Minor book jacket that captured my attention in the offered advance reading copy of The Death of Santini (publication day – October 29). I’ve become fond of Wendell’s work in book jackets and children’s books and no longer ask “Wendell Who?” as I did in a previous blog entry. The author, Pat Conroy, has been on my “Authors I Need to Try” list for quite some time so I jumped at the opportunity.
A quote from his previous novel, The Prince of Tides, sets a theme for this memoir, “In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.” Pat Conroy uses words skillfully to bring his family to life and to draw vivid pictures of his setting. While he otherwise has little good to say about his experience at The Citadel, he credits the beginnings of his life’s work to its extensive library, voracious reading, and English teachers who encouraged his writing. His readers thank them.
A person with a perpetually half-full cup (me) struggles to read a writer whose cup is half-empty (Pat Conroy). He admits he is comfortable with disaster and catastrophe and wary of triumph of any kind. For instance, the book blurb mentions the seven children who were “dragged from military base to military base” which is an accurate assessment of Pat Conroy’s view of his life. Many other military children, including mine, saw living in various states and countries as opportunities to see more of the world.
His account of his dysfunctional family gave me the feeling that I was eavesdropping on things that were none of my business. I had to remind myself that he wrote this to be read. I overcame my guilt and clicked my Kindle to the next page. Truthfully, I could not have pulled myself away. Death is a regular visitor and comes for other family members before it comes for Santini bringing with it many disrupted relationships. In times of these life crises as well as celebrations, his larger-than-life father makes an entrance with, “Stand by for a fighter pilot.” Pat Conroy’s ambivalence about the father who abused him as a child and became a companion in his adulthood comes to redemption in an uneasy peace and a sense of pride in his father before the death of “The Great Santini.”
In his jacket cover painting, Wendell Minor captures the poignancy of Santini’s death with an empty flight jacket across the back of an empty chair on an empty porch against a background of a bird making its way into the sunset.
I have moved Pat Conroy off my list of “Authors to Try” and added his titles to my endless “Books to Be Read” list. Since even his novels are based on his family, I’ll just deal with my eavesdropping guilt and my half-full cup.