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Beach Music

Beach Music

4.5 158
by Pat Conroy

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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


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.
Praise for Beach Music
“Astonishing . . . stunning . . . The range of passions and subjects that bring life to every page is almost endless.”The Washington Post Book World
“Magnificent . . . clearly Conroy’s best.”San Francisco Chronicle
“Blockbuster writing at its best.”Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Pat Conroy’s writing contains a virtue now rare in most contemporary fiction: passion.”The Denver Post
“A powerful, heartfelt tale.”Houston Chronicle

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Mr. Conroy is verbosely eloquent, imaginatively violent and a superior yarn spinner, sometimes to a fault....What betrays Mr. Conroy too often are his flights of lyrical prose. True, now and then he catches the lightning instead of the lightning bug....Most damaging of all, "Beach Music" builds to a disappointing climax that is quite literally staged and rings as false as Eugene O'Neill at his most wooden....When all is said and overdone in "Beach Music," Mr. Conroy leaves you begging for less. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A man tries to make peace with himself in the wake of his wife's suicide in Conroy's long-awaited blockbuster, which was a PW bestseller for 24 weeks. (June)
Library Journal
Conroy's was the most talked-about book at the American Booksellers Association convention, even though it was reputedly only half-written. Hero Jack McCall, who has fled to Rome after his wife's suicide, is asked to locate a Sixties buddy whose antiwar activity drove him underground.
Bill Ott
As is the case with so many likely best-sellers, the publisher of Pat Conroy's new novel did not distribute advance galleys to prepublication review media, ensuring that by the time you read this review, library patrons will already be clamoring for the opportunity to weep their way through another melodramatic extravaganza from the author of "The Prince of Tides" (1987). They won't be disappointed. Conroy evolves from the Margaret Mitchell school of southern writing, where everything must be Big--the smartest, most beautiful people on the planet living the biggest lives on the grandest sets and, of course, wracked by the greatest tragedies. It's all here in the story of Jack McCall of Waterford, South Carolina, his five brothers, drunken father, white-trash mother, and Holocaust-surviving in-laws. Nothing small happens in this book: the McCalls' story is played out against World War II, Auschwitz, the sixties, and, of course, the South in all its triumph and tragedy. Even the little moments are big in their way: the best cup of cappuccino, the most beautiful southern evening, the freshest shrimp, the most precocious kid. And yet, sneer as we will, we also must admit that Conroy plays the high-concept game as well as anyone. Like Mitchell, he builds narrative momentum that is impossible to resist, and he writes with a hammy eloquence that, while often infuriating, fits his subject matter perfectly. You won't stop reading, but you'll hate yourself in the morning.
From the Publisher
“Reading PAT CONROY is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.”
Houston Chronicle

“Astonishing . . . stunning . . . the range of passions and subjects that brings life to every page is almost endless.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Blockbuster writing at its best.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“PAT CONROY’S writing contains a virtue now rare in most contemporary fiction: passion.”
The Denver Post

“Magnificent...beach music is clearly CONROY’S best.”
San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Random House
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3 MB

Read an Excerpt

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 enigmatic 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.

        It was nearly sunset and a tape of the Drifters' Greatest Hits poured out of the car's stereo.  She had recently had our car serviced and the gasoline tank was full.  She had paid all the bills and set up an appointment with Dr. Joseph for my teeth to be cleaned.  Even in her final moments, her instincts tended toward the orderly and the functional.  She 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.  Having served her time in mental hospitals, exhausted the wide range of pharmaceuticals, and submitted herself to the priestly rites of therapists of every theoretic persuasion, she was defenseless when the black music of her subconscious sounded its elegy for her time on earth.

        On the rail, all eyewitnesses agreed, Shyla hesitated and looked out toward the sea and shipping lanes that cut past Fort Sumter, trying to compose herself for the last action of her life.  Her beauty had always been a disquieting thing about her and as the wind from the sea caught her black hair, lifting it like streamers behind her, no one could understand why anyone so lovely would want to take her own life.  But Shyla was tired of feeling ill-made and transitory and she wanted to set the flags of all her tomorrows at half-mast. Three days earlier, she had disappeared from our house in Ansonborough and only later did I discover that she had checked in to the Mills-Hyatt House to put her affairs in order.  After making appointments, writing schedules, letters, and notes that would allow our household to continue in its predictable harmony, she marked the mirror in her hotel room with an annulling X in bright red lipstick, paid her bill with cash, flirted with the doorman, and gave a large tip to the boy who brought her the car.  The staff at the hotel remarked on her cheerfulness and composure during her stay.

        As Shyla steadied herself on the rail of the bridge a man approached her from behind, a man coming up from Florida, besotted with citrus and Disney World, and said in a low voice so as not to frighten the comely stranger on the bridge, "Are you okay, honey?"

        She pirouetted slowly and faced him.  Then with tears streaming down her face, she stepped back, and with that step, changed the lives of her family forever. Her death surprised no one who loved her, yet none of us got over it completely.  Shyla was that rarest of suicides: no one held her responsible for the act itself; she was forgiven as instantly as she was missed and afterward she was deeply mourned.  

        For three days I joined the grim-faced crew of volunteers who searched for Shyla's remains.  Ceaselessly, we dragged the length and breadth of the harbor, enacting a grotesque form of braille as hoods felt their way along the mudflats and the pilings of the old bridge that connected Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island.  Two boys  were crabbing when they noticed her body moving toward them beside the marsh grass.

        After her funeral, a sadness took over me that seemed permanent, and I lost myself in the details and technicalities connected to death in the South. Great sorrow still needs to be fed and I dealt with my disconsolate emptiness by feeding everyone who gathered around me to offer their support.  I felt as though I were providing sustenance for the entire army in the field who had come together to ease the malignant ache I felt every time Shyla's name was mentioned.  The word Shyla itself became a land mine.  That sweet-sounding word was merciless and I could not bear to hear it.  

        So I lost myself in the oils and condiments of my well-stocked kitchen.  I fatted up my friends and family, attempted complicated recipes I had always put off making, and even tried my hand at Asian cuisine for the first time.  With six gas burners ablaze, I turned out velvety soups and rib-sticking stews.  I alternated between cooking and weeping and I prayed for the repose of the soul of my sad, hurt wife.  I suffered, I grieved, I broke down, and I cooked fabulous meals for those who came to comfort me.

        It was only a short time after we buried Shyla that her parents sued me for custody of my child, Leah, and their lawsuit brought me running back into the real world.  I spent a dispiriting year in court trying to prove my fitness as a father.  It was a time when I met a series of reptilian lawyers so unscrupulous that I would not have used their marrow to feed wild dogs or their wiry flesh to bait a crab pot.  Shyla's mother and father had gone crazy with grief and I learned much about the power of scapegoating by watching their quiet hatred of me as they grimaced though the testimony regarding my sanity, my finances, my reputation in the community, and my sexual life with their eldest child.  

        Though I have a whole range of faults that piqued the curiosity of the court, few who have ever seen me with my daughter have any doubts about my feelings for her.  I get weak at the knees at the very sight of her.  She is my certification, my boarding pass into the family of man, and whatever faith in the future I still retain.  

        But it was not my overriding love of Leah that won the day in court.  Before she took her final drive, Shyla had mailed me a letter that was part love letter and part apology for what she had done.  When my lawyer had me read that letter aloud to the court, it became clear to Shyla's parents and everyone present that laying her death at my feet was, at best, a miscarriage of justice.  Her letter was an act of extraordinary generosity written in the blackest hours of her life.  She blew it like a kiss toward me as a final gesture of a rare, exquisite sensibility.  Her letter saved Leah for me.  But the ferocity of that court battle left me exhausted, bitter, and raw around the edges.  It felt as though Shyla had died twice.  

        I answered my wife's leap from the bridge and the fierceness of that legal battle with a time of disorientation and sadness; and then with Italy.  Toward Europe, I looked for respite and hermitage, and the imminence of my secret flight from South Carolina again restored a fight spirit within me.  I had made a good living as a food and travel writer and running away had always been one of the things I did best.  

        The flight to Europe was my attempt to place the memory of both Shyla and South Carolina permanently in the past.  I hoped I would save my life and Leah's from the suffocation I was beginning to feel in the place where Shyla and I had come of age together.  For me, the South was carry-on baggage I could not shed no matter how many borders I crossed, but my daughter was still a child and I wanted her to grow into young womanhood as a European, blissfully unaware of that soft ruinous South that had killed her mother in one of its prettiest rivers.  My many duties as a father I took with great seriousness, but there was no law that I was aware of that insisted I raise Leah as a Southerner.  Certainly, the South had been a mixed blessing for me and I carried some grievous wounds into exile with me.  All the way across the Atlantic Leah slept in my lap and when she awoke, I began her transformation by teaching her to count in Italian.  And so in Rome we settled and began the long process of refusing to be Southern, even though my mother started a letter-writing campaign to coax me back home.  Her letters arrived every Friday: "A Southerner in Rome? A low country boy in Italy? Ridiculous.  You've always been restless, Jack, never knew how to be comfortable with your own kind.  But mark my words.  You'll be back soon.  The South's got a lot wrong with it.  But it's permanent press and it doesn't wash out."

        Though my mother was onto something real, I stuck by my guns.  I would tell American tourists who questioned me about my accent that I no longer checked the scores of the Atlanta Braves in the Herald Tribune and they could not get me to reread Faulkner or Miss Eudora at gun-point.  I did not realize or care that I was attempting to expunge all that was most authentic about me. I was serious about needing some time to heal and giving my soul a much needed rest.  My quest was amnesia; my vehicle was Rome.  For five years, my plan worked very well.

        But no one walks out of his family without reprisals: a family is too disciplined an army to offer compassion to its deserters.  No matter how much they sympathized with all my motives, those who loved me most read a clear text of treason in my action.  They thought that by forcing me away from South Carolina, Shyla's leap had succeeded in taking Leah and me over the rail with her.  

        I understood completely, but I was so burnt out I did not care.  I threw myself at the Italian language with gusto and became fluent in the street talk of the shopkeepers and the vendors of our neighborhood.  In the first year of our exile, working all the angles of my trade, I completed my third cookbook, a compilation of recipes I had gathered over a ten-year career of dining out in some of the best restaurants in the South.   I also wrote a travel book on Rome that became popular with American tourists as soon as it hit the giornalai.  I urged every American who read it to understand Rome was both sublime and imperishably beautiful, a city that melted into leaf-blown silences and gave a splendid return to any tourist adventurous enough to stray from the main trade routes of tourism.  All the pangs and difficulties of my own homesickness went into the writing of that book.  The artfully hidden subtext in those first years was that foreign travel was worth every discomfort and foul-up, but took a radical toll on the spirit.  Though I could write about the imperishable charms of Rome forever, I could not quiet that pearly ache in my heart that I diagnosed as the cry of home.  

        I kept that cry to myself, in fact, did not even admit that it was something I heard or felt.  I concentrated on the task of raising Leah in a culture alien to me and I hired a maid named Maria Parise from the Umbrian countryside and watched with pleasure as she took over the task of mothering Leah.  Maria was a simple, strong-willed woman, God-fearing and superstitious, as only a peasant can be, who brought an undiminishable joy to the raising of this small motherless American.

        In a short amount of time Leah became part of the native fauna around the Palazzo Farnese, a beloved romanina adopted by the people who loved and plied their trades around the piazza, and she rapidly turned into the first real linguist produced by my family.  Her Italian was flawless as she navigated the teeming stalls along the Campo dei Fiori with its wild rivers of fruit and cheese and olives.  Very early on, I taught Leah how to tell where we were in the Campo by using her sense of smell.  The south side was glazed with the smell of slain fish and no amount of water or broomwork could ever eliminate the tincture of ammonia scenting that part of the piazza. The fish had written their names in those stones.  But so had the young lambs and the coffee beans and the torn arugula and the glistening tiers of citrus and the bread baking that produced a golden brown perfume from the great ovens.  I whispered to Leah that a sense of smell was better than a yearbook for imprinting the delicate graffiti of time in the memory.  I knew that Leah had developed a bloodhound's nose when in the middle of the second year she stopped me as we passed by the Ruggeri brothers' alimentari and said, "The truffles have arrived, Daddy, they're here," as I caught the signature odor of pure earth.  As a reward, I bought Leah a fraction  of that truffle, priced as dearly as uranium, and sliced it into her scrambled eggs the next morning.

        The raising of Leah consumed a large portion of my days and made me place my own sorrow over the loss of Shyla in a seldom visited back lot of my life, allowing me no time to devote to my own complex feelings over her death. Leah's happiness superseded everything in my life and I was determined I would not pass our family's infinite capacity for suffering on to her.  I knew that Leah, as Shyla's child and my own, would get more than her portion of the genes of grief.  Together, our families contained enough sad stories to jump-start a colony of lemmings toward the nearest body of water.   I had no idea if the seeds of our madness burned in secret deposits in my beautiful child's bloodstream or not.  But I vowed to protect her from those stories, from both sides of her family, that could set in motion the forces that had brought me spiritually bloody and beaten to the Fiumicino airport in the first place.  I confess that I became the censor of my daughter's history.  The South that I described to Leah at bedtime every night existed only in my imagination.  I admitted no signs of danger or nightmare.  There was no dark side to the Southern moon that I recalled to my daughter, and the rivers ran clean and the camellias were always in bloom.  It was a South that existed without sting or thorns or heartache.  

        Because I have inherited my family's gift for storytelling, my well-told lies became Leah's memories.  Without realizing it, I made the mistake of turning South Carolina into a lost and secret paradise to my daughter.  By carefully editing what I thought would harm her, I turned my childhood into something as glamorous as forbidden fruit.  Though Rome would mark her with its most exacting emblems, I did not note the exact moment I touched my child with a lust to see the fierce, rarefied beauty of her birthplace.  Even as Leah became part of the secrets that Rome whispered, she was not a native of the city, not indigenous like the flowery lichens that grew along the wall that held back the Tiber.

From the Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Pat Conroy (1945–2016) was the author of The Boo, The Water Is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life, My Losing Season, South of Broad, My Reading Life, and The Death of Santini.

From the Paperback edition.

Brief Biography

San Francisco and South Carolina
Date of Birth:
October 26, 1945
Place of Birth:
Atlanta, Georgia
B.A.,The Citadel, 1967

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Beach Music 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 158 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
it is so good that you will want to read it again and again through the years. One read and my paperback has fallen apart. I related well to the times and the characters could have been any number of friends from my past. I confess that on my visits this summer to the Beaufort/Fripp Isl area this summer I looked around wondering if some of my characters were around and when I saw the protected turtle nest areas I smiled. Obviously this book does not need my applause but I could not resist sharing my enthusiasm and advice. Thank you for giving me hours of escape and enjoyment Mr. Conroy!
LeapingLissy More than 1 year ago
I completely agree with the comment about getting the hardcover version of this book - my paperback copy is falling apart. Conroy's writing style is beautiful, the plot is engaging, and the characters are described in such depth, it's as if I was right there with them. Love this book!
Kevin Mitchell More than 1 year ago
This was quite possibly the best book I have ever read. The characters seemed so real and I could completely relate to the family and the relationships between them all. Definitely a must read. The first chapter is beautiful-simply put.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best works of fiction that I've ever read. Pat Conroy's use of the language is beautiful and very memorable. I've given this book as a gift many times and everyone is moved by the story. Buy the hardcover for your library as you will want to read this again and again. Buy several copies as you will want to share this with everyone! Don't forget to read his other books, too ! They are all exceptional. I can't wait until "South of Broad" is released.
porggie1 More than 1 year ago
very good read. hard to put down. Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am so glad a friend introduced me to Pat Conroy. Beach Music is every bit as good as South of Broad. Funny, poignant, sad, exhilarating. Deals with lots of controversial topics. Hate for it to end!
SAB48 More than 1 year ago
I would recommend anything by Pat conroy & Beach Music is no exception! The story unfolds into story that touches your soul & doesn't let you go. If you have read or not read any of his other works this one will not disappoint you, a haunting story you can't put down.
Karen Johnson More than 1 year ago
I truly believe that Pat Conroy is the master of southern writing. I have read all of his books and I have never been disappointed. Take time to read this book so you can absorb all the words and the characters. No one has a writing style like Pat Conroy. You won't be disappointed!
Nookhooked556 More than 1 year ago
This was the first novel by Pat Conroy that I read & it has stayed with me since then. The characters & locales come alive in a great tale of family, friendship, heartache, forgiveness & love. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm still not sure how I've managed to not read anything by Pat Conroy at this point in my life, but here I am having finished my first novel of his, Beach Music, and I now want to read every word he has ever put on paper. The characters were developed at a steady pace and the plots were very well thought out. As the book goes on and the characters backstories' are only eluded to and not fully described, I began to think everything would be wrapped up in a hurry with only a hint of real resolution. But while the ending was quick, it was plausable. You feel for the characters and what they went through. You forget it's a third party telling of the story and you begin to imagine yourself right there along with everyone else. It's a really fantastic read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very intense and powerful emotions in this book. The characters have endured terrible tragedies but displayed the stregnth of the human spirit.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If I were to be stranded on an island and could take just one book, Beach Music is the one I would choose. Like others have expressed before me, I have read and reread Beach Music. Each time I discover something new. Conroy makes magic when he writes, and this is his best so far. Yes, Beach Music would be my one book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Years ago, I tried to read Prince of Tides and was bothered by some of the subject matter. I was very young and it disturbed me. Since then, I have been hesitant to read any of Mr Conroy's other books. However, he is one of my boss's favorite authors so I thought I'd give him another try. AM I glad I did!!!! This book was sooooo good I didn't want to put it down. The characters are so richly described and the characterization of the South is perfect!!!! I would definitely recommend this book to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed Prince of Tides years ago, and decided at that time to read more of Mr. Conroy's work... and Beach Music is absolutely excellent! I found myself rereading some parts occasionally to get the full effect of his beautiful descriptions. This book was enjoyable from beginning to end. The characters are so real, and the family dysfunction so true to form. At times I laughed out loud, at times I cried. Other times my mouth watered at his savory descriptions of food. I would recommend this book to anyone, and plan on buying a copy or two as gifts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pat Conroy uses beautiful diction throughout this novel. I enjoyed reading it and every page was never a waste of time. It's amazing how he combines all these different times without making the reader confused. He taught me a valuable lesson No matter how far you go, you can never escape family. He gives everybody hope and lets us all know that no matter what, we can allways look forward to a better tomorrow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have ever read!!! I loved the family and all the crazy personalities. The family's unconditional love for one another through good and bad takes you through every emotion known. I laughed til I cried, and cried til my eyes were red. Pat Conroy continues to write books full of 'life'. This is a great read with a family worth knowing, a mother with incredible spirit - by the books end I wanted to be a member of this family. I have recommended this story many times & everyone loved it! The audio version is just as good. Enoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books that I have ever read. Hard to put it down.
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Wanna be my nook ftiend my name is angel gutierrez
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not very far into it yet but easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this story so much, I traveled to the east coast and fell even more head over heels with the area and the book. Now I own this book in hard back, a real keeper.
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I loved this book. Pay Conroy is a wonderful writer. I wish this book could have gone on and on.