I met Pat Conroy at a book signing event in Atlanta when this book was released There just so happened to be another Furman Alumni in line ahead of us and I heard Conroy say something about Furman I spoke up making sure he knew I was there His response was something like You Furman people are like Lynx, you re everywhere So, thinking I understood that his spat with The Citadel had turned him sour against the school I made some smartass, derogatory comment about The Citadel He signed my book Citadel Forever, Pat Conroy I m such a jackass.I ve read this book at least 3 times and I ve cried at the ending all three times The first time I was in a room full of prospective jurors waiting to be called for duty in Marietta, GA I had to go to the restroom to finish the last page or two and collect myself before going back out into that room of 200 strangers Beautiful, beautiful book. Pat Conroy is a magical writer, and his Beach Music, is no exception This is perhaps my favorite book of all time, though I do alternate with his other, The Prince of Tides, so beware that I m reviewing Beach Music as a committed Conrophile, if such a phrase could exist Jack McCall is a sweeping character, and when the book opens, we find he and his daughter ensconced away in Rome after a family tragedy What follows is a story that, in my opinion, weaves a brilliant quilt of familiarly eccentric characters through various periods of the twentieth century Conroy is excellent at exposing family drama while psychologically diving deep below the surface, yet almost entirely colored by the perspective of his Jack McCall Conroy, the son of a Marine Aviator, did not grow up exclusively in the Charleston low country, though he has called Charleston his adopted home Given Conroy s incredible descriptions of low country, as well as Rome, a reader might surmise that Conroy isn t really writing about a fictional Jack McCall, but various facets of his own life disguised Perhaps this is why I love Beach Music, and Pat Conroy so very much one gets less of a sense that they are reading complete fiction, but rather peeking into the diary of a literary great.
The back cover of this book doesn t give a very good description of what the plot is about And why would it how could it , when the plot is this much of a mess In short Jack McCall is an American who moves to Rome with his young daughter after his wife commits suicide, intending to never see anyone from his past again including his own family , but he eventually comes home and starts dealing with the past.The long version of the plot is I don t even know where to begin, the book is such a mess In the preface alone, all this happens Shyla Jack s wife kills herself before their daughter is two years old Shyla s parents sue Jack for custody of his daughter, claiming he s an unfit father and even lying in court that he beats his daughter everyone believes that if Jack had only been a good husband and a good father, his wife would not have killed herself Jack retains custody of his daughter not because he s actually a good father but because of a letter his wife wrote before she died and Jack moves to Rome to be a travel writer there and escape his past I feel exhausted just recapping that and it was only the preface Good grief What could happen in the next nearly 800 pages Jack is conveniently everyone s confidant, he s at important places when big events happen, and he s pivotal to everyone Let me give a rundown of the book s topics Family secrets Shyla s sister in law tracks down Jack with a private investigator and says her family wants to make up with him and they realize he didn t kill Shyla, it was her mom who d driven her to suicide And if Jack would only let her explain, he d understand Also, they want to know his daughter and they have family secrets to share with him Suicide Shyla s death is a huge factor in the book Everyone seems to have the idea that Jack wasn t a good husband because of it Jack even says that one of his high school friends would have put him on her list of available guys but since his wife killed herself, he s clearly not good husband material Huh Hollywood One of Jack s high school friends gets in touch with Jack he s a big Hollywood producer now and wants Jack to write a miniseries about their childhoods I understand that everyone thinks they have a story in them, and lots of people think the story of their lives would be a great movie, but dang Really This producer is convinced he needs Jack on board or it won t be a huge hit Abuse There are abusive fathers and abusive pastors There was also an incident in which Jack stopped a man from hitting a woman everyone was in disbelief that Jack stood up to this beast and then ended up in jail for the night with his daughter by his side Yeah Religion Jack is Catholic and Shyla was Jewish And yet they made it work Everyone is shocked by the fact they worked so well together with this religious difference A faked death disappearing act One of their high school friends had supposedly died and everyone went to his memorial service, but the Hollywood producer claims the man is alive and Jack knows where he is This is actually true the guy had faked his own death to get away from his abusive father and reinvented himself as a priest in Rome Jack is the only friend who knows he s still alive But how did everyone else hear the rumor that this guy had faked his own death Simple one of their old teachers, on vacation in Italy, went to confession and heard his voice as her confessor Since she never forgets a voice, she immediately recognized who it was by voice alone and spread the word back home The Nazis Orphans The Vietnam War Jack and his friends protest during this, all of which is shown in flashbacks Leukemia Jack s mom is dying of cancer, which brings him back to the US He s initially skeptical, because she d faked cancer before for attention Schizophrenia Alcoholism Loggerhead turtles and their eggs.I could go on, but I won t This book was so melodramatic, so sappy, that I felt as if I were reading a Lifetime Original Movie, only for men And covering so many topics that it wasn t even movie length It was like a seasons long series that I d never, ever want to actually watch.Jack s daughter, who plays a bigger role early on in the book but then gets sort of lost in the rest of the madness, is precocious and completely unbelievable The dialogue between her and Jack is particularly awkward in a book filled with tedious conversations She never acted her age, and the author wrote Jack in a way that tried to make him seem like the perfect, absolute perfect father doting on his perfect, absolutely perfect daughter, but it was done in such a sappy manner that they never actually felt real The writing was also poor It wasn t completely awful it was readable but it certainly wasn t stellar The book did not need to be so long the book sorely needed to be edited An example of the purple prose After we finished the pasta, I assembled a large army of greens and arranged them deftly until they took on a disheveled order The olive oil was extra virgin and recently pressed in Lucca and the vinegar was balsamic, black from its careful aging in rimmed barrels, and soon the smells of the kitchen coalesced to make me dizzy as I kissed the two women in my life and poured the wine to toast the health of the three of us.This is why the book ended up at nearly 800 pages.Jack has four brothers, three of whom blended together to the point that I couldn t distinguish between them the fourth only stood out because he suffered from schizophrenia and would rant obnoxiously It wasn t funny, it wasn t clever, and it didn t make for good filler material especially since so much else was contained in this book There was a random flashback when Jack visits Venice and he recalls another time when he d visited Venice and a masked woman led him to her house, where she proceeds to have sex with him in pretty explicit detail and he realizes that she would never reveal her identity to him It was rather odd, since it affected the plot in absolutely no way Also there was a Jewish man who d moved to this town way back in the day, befriending Jack s grandparents, and everyone loved him Everyone refers to him to his face, behind his back as The Great Jew I am not joking The Great Jew.I did like one short part of the book, a flashback in which Jack and some of his high school friends go fishing on the water and end up stranded for days, having to rely on the survival skills of one of them in order to live This part was actually interesting But that was it And it wasn t worth the 500 pages it took to get there It also had no effect on the rest of the book But then again, so much of the book had no effect on the rest of the book.Just when the book finally, FINALLY ends there s disappointment There s an epilogue As if needed to be said about anything But it was a way to jump forward in the future and show how perfect life had turned out for Jack This was all done in a super sappy, melodramatic manner that seemed fit for a made for TV movie of the week than a supposedly big saga about family and whatever else.This book was awful and way too long I skimmed most of it because it definitely was not worth the time to actually read I would have stopped on page 2 if this hadn t been this month s book club pick I can t believe this book has ANY good reviews, let alone the fact that the author is a bestseller Beautiful It s weird because there s something amateur unintellectual about his writing, yet it s profoundly wise and he comes up with poetic comparisons all over the place I can t place it Maybe the characters are a bit too cheesy at times Hopeless romantic I don t know But he writes about insanely tragic things and with utter understanding This and Prince of Tides are very healing books they have a raw power One paragraph summed up my Mom in such beauty that that is all I need to know I can stop trying to figure her out That paragraph was insanely healing.I can t imagine the utter grief and loss he must have experienced in his lifetime you can tell he writes what he knows.His knowledge on the holocaust was amazing also It brought to light the idea of fear and how to fear only cowardice is so important, in life and if not followed allows the holocaust to happen and allows you to be reduced to sub human.I watched Moulin Rouge shortly after and realized how profound Toulouse s character is The Bohemian Revolution has a negative conotation to it and yet I can see exactly where and why it sprung up when people allowed themselves to be reduced to dogs not human at all any and really all that matters is truth, beauty and freedom and love Without those elements we are nothing but cowards and there s no point to living Like in the Mao regime all based on fear fear of what I don t know what was Mao afraid of to hate protest beauty enforcing grass to be picked Not so much a book as a life experience, Pat Conroy s Beach Music covers a heck of a lot of topics Like his other titles this one has family and friendship are the forefront but the scope of this novel was vast covering alcoholism, suicide, schizophrenia, domestic violence, religion, the holocaust, the vietnam war, politics, trust, sickness, survival, and love in all shapes and sizes He so thoroughly tackles each topic it sometimes felt like he d written several books in one Primarily set in Waterford, South Carolina, Beach Music is a family saga of epic proportions From the very first sentence of the Prologue we learnt Jacks wife Shyla suicided leaving him to raise their 2 year old daughter Leah Shyla leapt to her death and was swept away just as we readers were swept into the drama of this magnificent book Beach Music was a tribute to Shyla, to Southern families of all shapes and sizes, to enduring friendships and to reconciliation As Jack leads us through his personal history and those of extended family, of friends and their families, the stories creep into progressively difficult territory Recollections of domestic violence within his own home and that of his friend Jordan From his mothers desperately difficult redneck start to life, he progressed to sharing his in laws experiences as European Jews With entire chapters dedicated to the atrocities and horrors of WWII this made for horrendous reading Jack recalls his experiences of resisting the Vietnam war, highlighting the divisiveness caused within American society, amongst family and friends, the strength of opinion and lengths people went to express their beliefs Of course these are just some of the bigger topics and not all were gloom and doom There were stories of flourishing friendships showing how trust was built as big and small life experiences were shared There were stories of brotherly love, albeit expressed with sarcasm, humour and gruffness The way those same brothers learnt to express their love in both words and deeds for their dying mum There was the passing of the baton from grandmother to granddaughter for the care and protection of the loggerhead turtles There was the delightful relationship between Jack and daughter Leah, and the stories of the Great dog Chippie There was an element of intrigue as we waited to find out what had caused an irreparable rift between previously firm friends, and so the list goes on As I sit and try to catalogue the high s and lows the list is long For me, the the icing on the cake was the way it caused tears of both sadness and joy, and the fact that I never once tired of this book of almost 800 pages.As always Pat Conroy s writing was delicious, insightful and full of meaning He s skilled at creating characters that step off the page, into your life and linger in your memory But above all of this he is a master in the art of telling a story I have a hunch these words p249 attributed to Jack actually describe Pat Conroy himselfWe told stories to each other, and my brothers, like me, mark time by cherishing the details that stud the layers of each great story They were Southern boys and they knew how to make a story sizzle when it hit the fatThank you Pat Conroy, your story most definitely sizzled throughout and it made me cherish the details. Possibly one of the worst books I have ever had the misfortune to read I bought it after hearing Nan Talese, Conroy s editor, talk about how it was put together In retrospect, I should have realized that her telling of how Conroy was impaired by drink and depression during the writing of the book, and her active role in putting the book together meant it would be a crazy quilt hodgepodge rambling Faulkner wannabe of a book When the Nazis showed up, I though, Oh My God. Prior to reading Beach Music, I had only experienced Conroy in his reading memoir, My Reading Life Since I knew he would be at the SC Book Festival, I spent most of my reading time this past week coming back to this book I had started it on a beach trip with my sister over spring break, but some of the topics were a little too close to me at that time.Jack, the main character in this novel, has lived in Rome with his daughter Leah ever since his wife Shyla committed suicide and he had a very close custody battle with Leah s grandparents He is summoned home to Charleston because his mother has cancer, and the rest of the almost 800 pages go forwards and backwards in time, filling in all the pieces of the story he knows and some he doesn t know The parts seem disconnected at first, ranging from the Holocaust to Vietnam to a time at sea with a sting ray, but they all branch out from the central story in some way One of the active parts of the story have to do with his childhood friend Jordan, who everyone thought had died, and that helps to bridge the gaps between some of the others Pat Conroy is hard to fully comprehend for me I have heard he has very similar themes in all his fiction the dysfunctional family, the mental illness, the Holocaust and Vietnam, the landscape of the low country, the abusive father and in this book everyone has an abusive father but after seeing him speak and seeing him interact with his brothers and one of his sisters yesterday at the SC Book Festival, I don t really blame him It is clear that his family history permeates every moment, and his family is important to him.There is a sense of shocking reality to some of his writing, but then he will write these scenes of sheer unbelievability dancing with his future wife as the ocean washes a house out to sea, a sea creature dragging the boat away, the magical rescue of the turtles his writing is very poetic in these sections but it grated against the surrounding story to me I wish he d separated out his good ideas into 3 solid novels one about the man going home after his wife s suicide, one about the boy thought dead, and one that had the magical elements It had the feeling of a forced epic, when the strength comes in the smaller elements the conflicts between people, and the secrets in their histories.For me, it was a shock and then a comfort to be reading a novel about someone going home after a long time away to be with a mother who has cancer, since that is what my summer looks like it will be Despite all the other stories swirling around it, that was the story I paid the most attention to, and cared the most about And the turtles, I really cared about the turtles There is so much in here that I might read it differently in a different year, but I really need to read the book he wrote about his father next The Great Santini You can t escape contemporary southern literature without acknowledging Pat Conroy, and you can t escape the man himself if you are around anything book related in the state of South Carolina He s a southern superstar. Pat Conroy wrote the beautiful introduction to one of my all time favorite books, Gone with the Wind My rule with classics, not that I read them as often as I probably should, is to read the introduction after completing the book Once I finished Gone with the Wind and then read Conroy s introduction, I knew that this would be an author that I need to look into Beach Music is the first book that I have read by him It grabbed me right from the start and I was hooked Even though we were on vacation, it was often pretty much all that I could think about Part of the story takes place in Italy, specifically Rome, and I finished this book right before we arrived there Perfect timing Here s a picture that we took of the Piazza Navona in Rome The writing is gorgeous The story is riveting and had me laughing and crying The characters are superb to the point where I missed them so very much after finishing the book For me, that s definitely a sign of a phenomenal book While reading, I looked up Pat Conroy and was amazed at how quite a bit of the story is similar to his own life I was reminded of a quote by P.D James All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction I can t wait to read books by him How sad that he s no longer with us This is definitely my favorite book of 2018, and now one of my favorite books of all time Some of my favorite quotes 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 When you have been hurt you lose your trust in the world If the world s mean to you when you re a child, you spend the rest of your life being mean back I don t know why it is that I have always been happier thinking of somewhere I have been or wanted to go, than where I am at the time I find it difficult to be happy in the present. (READ KINDLE) ï Beach Music Á An American Expatriate In Rome Unearths His Family Legacy In This Sweeping Novel By The Acclaimed Author Of The Prince Of Tides And The Great Santini A Southerner Living Abroad, Jack McCall Is Scarred By Tragedy And Betrayal His Desperate Desire To Find Peace After His Wife S Suicide Draws Him Into A Painful, Intimate Search For The One Haunting Secret In His Family S Past That Can Heal His Anguished Heart Spanning Three Generations And Two Continents, From The Contemporary Ruins Of The American South To The Ancient Ruins Of Rome, From The Unutterable Horrors Of The Holocaust To The Lingering Trauma Of Vietnam, Beach Music Sings With Life S Pain And Glory It Is A Novel Of Lyric Intensity And Searing Truth, Another Masterpiece Among Pat Conroy S Legendary And Beloved Novels While competently written and quite entertaining, Beach Music tries to be too many books in one I didn t think the various aspects of the story resonated with each other enough to belong in the same book I felt that Conroy could have written three tighter novels with the material he packed into this one loose one For example, the long backstory about Lucy s childhood, while interesting, could have been shortened considerably or left to the imagination It was enough to know she wasn t of good breeding and had gone to great lengths to compensate The Great Jew s childhood story also seemed to belong in another book, as well All these separate characters stories gave the novel the feeling of a series of vignettes instead of a tightly wound together whole For me, the novel was all over the place A better writer would have either cut some of it out or done a better job of weaving it all together That said, there were certainly parts of the novel that sang They could have stood alone as short stories One such part was the episode when Jack and his best friends get lost at sea as teenagers Another was the chapter in which Lucy teaches Leah how to dig up the Loggerhead Turtle eggs and re bury them in safer territory Unfortunately, as I stated above, each of these vignettes could have belonged in different novels or been published as short stories.Lastly, I want to remark on one major irritant in this novel the too snappy dialogue Jack s often ascerbic banter with his childhood friends when they re encounter each other in Italy and in S Carolina comes off contrived and movie dialoguish He always seems to have the perfect wiseacre come back for every situation, and I found it rang false A less posturing, self effacing and insecure Jack McCall would have seemed realistic No one is ever on such a witty roll every time they speak.