Beach Music

Beach Music

4.5 158
by Pat Conroy
     
 

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PAT CONROY, America’s preeminent storyteller, delivers a sweeping novel of lyric intensity and searing truth–the story of Jack McCall, an American expatriate in Rome, 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’

Overview

PAT CONROY, America’s preeminent storyteller, delivers a sweeping novel of lyric intensity and searing truth–the story of Jack McCall, an American expatriate in Rome, 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 another masterpiece in PAT CONROY’S legendary list of beloved novels.

Editorial Reviews

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

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780553381535
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/26/2002
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
800
Sales rank:
51,240
Product dimensions:
5.19(w) x 8.19(h) x 1.69(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I am usually up when the Piazza Farnese awakens. In darkness I brew my coffee and take a cup up to the terrace where I watch first light come over the deer-colored city.

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 west 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 Farnese. Wearing the same expressions, like face cards in a disfigured deck, the carabinieri seem bored and usually you can see the pale glow of their cigarettes against the dashboards as they sit in their cars during the long Roman night. A van carrying fragrant bags of coffee then arrives in front of the Bon Caffe at the same time the owner of the cafe rolls up the steel shutters. His first cup of coffee always goes to the driver of the truck, the second to the owner of the newspaper stand. A small boy, the son of the owner, then takes two cups of black coffee to the carabinieri across the piazza just as the nuns in Santa Brigida begin to stir in the convent across from my building.

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 signifying that Mass is about to start. There is solitude in the fatigue of watching such beginnings and I then ritually count the thirteen churches I can see from my terrace. I was still counting them when I spotted a man who had been following us for the last few days enter the piazza from the Campo dei Fiori.

I slipped behind an oleander bush as the man looked up toward my terrace, then entered the Bon Caffe. I continued to count the bell towers and the four great moony clocks whose hands commemorated the exact moment of their death for Rome to see. I listened with pleasure to the music of the fountains in the piazza.

Across the piazza, a nun moved on the church's terrace this Monday morning, heedless as a moth in her mothering of roses. A brindled cat stalked a pigeon into the first slice of sunlight in the piazza, but a bum clapped his hands and shooed them both away. The man who'd been following me came out of the Bon Caffe and looked my way again. He lit a cigarette, then walked to the newspaper stand and bought a copy of Il Messaggero.

Below me the piazza began to bloom with life as carts rolled into it and pedestrians entered from the side streets. Pigeons called to each other from the stately rows of fleurs-de-lys that stretched along the entablature of the French Embassy. I love both the regularity and austereness of my piazza.

At 7 a.m. on this day the roofers returned to work on the apartment across the alley, replacing the old rows of ceramic tile with new ones, creating a strange music of nails against tiles that sounded like the playing of xylophones underwater. I finished my coffee and went down to wake up Leah for school.

As I walked over to her window and opened the shutter, Leah asked:

"Is that man still watching for us, Daddy?"

"He's waiting for us in the piazza, just like before."

"Who do you think he is?" she asked.

"I'll find out today, sweetheart."

"What if he's a kidnapper? Maybe he'll sell me to the Gypsies and I'll have to make a living robbing tourists."

"You've been talking to Maria again. Don't listen to her about Gypsies or about Communists. Hurry up, now. Get ready for school. Suor Rosaria always blames me if you're late."

"What if he tries to hurt me, Daddy?"

I lifted my daughter up into the air until we were looking at each other eye to eye.

"I told you before, your daddy may be stupid, but what else am I?"

"Big," she giggled.

"How big?"

"Real big. You're six feet six inches tall."

"What do the kids in your school call me?"

"They call you Il Gigante, the giant," she said, laughing again.

"I'm the giant. The guy down there's the little midget who climbs up the beanstalk."

"But the little midget kills the giant by chopping down the beanstalk," she said.

I hugged her and laughed. "You're smarter than hell, Leah. Just like your mama. Don't worry. That was a fairy tale. In real life, giants clean their teeth with the leg bones of guys like that."

"That's disgusting. I'm going to brush my teeth."

I heard Maria let herself in through the front door and call out "Buon giorno, piccolina" to Leah as she passed in the hallway. Maria stored her umbrella in the front closet, then came to the kitchen where I poured her a cup of coffee.

"Buon giorno, Dottore," Maria said.

"I'm not a doctor, Maria," I answered in my own formal Italian. I am unable to master Maria's dialect. It sounds like part chirruping and part speech impediment, but she has never grown impatient when I have trouble understanding her.

"In Italy, you're a doctor," she said in Italian. "So enjoy it and hold your tongue. I love calling you Dottore in front of the other maids. They know I work for a man of leisure. By the way, your friend is still there."

"I saw him from the terrace. Does anyone know him?"

"The portiere talked to the owner of the Bon Caffe. The stranger says he's a tourist from Milano. But why would a tourist look only at this apartment and ignore the Palazzo Farnese. Bruno, at the newsstand, says that he's sure the man is a policeman and that you must be involved with drugs or the Red Brigades. None of the carabinieri have ever seen him but they're too young to have seen anyone but their mothers. He buys cigarettes in the cartoleria from Giannina. The whole piazza is watching him. He does not seem dangerous. They said to tell you not to fear."

"Tell them thanks. I'll try to repay them."

"No need," she answered. "Even though you and la piccolina are foreigners, you are part of the piazza. Everyone watches out for his neighbor."

"Marry me, Maria," I said, taking hold of her hand. "Marry me and I'll give you my money and let you raise my child."

"You speak foolishness to me. Sciocchezze," Maria said, giggling madly and jerking her hand away. "Americano pazzo. You tease me too much and one day I say yes and what will you do, Dottore?"

"Call the Pope and tell him to get his ass over to Santo Pietro for a wedding ceremony."

"You are too big for me, Signor McCall," she said, appraising me. "You would kill me in bed."

"Excuses, excuses," I replied as Leah appeared in the kitchen doorway already dressed for school. She smiled broadly so I could inspect her carefully brushed teeth. I went over her, checked her ears and neck, and nodding approval, I sent her toward Maria, who began to put the child's hair in pigtails. Leah's hair was a dark wave that kindled beneath the electric light. When she shook it, it shimmered, roiled like something half-animal, half-river.

"Bellissima. Bellissima," Maria sang as she twisted Leah's hair into fine braids. "Prettiest little girl in the piazza."

The Piazza Farnese was the central fact of Leah's life. She was blissfully unaware that I was on the run from a past that had put too many hunters in the field against me. She did not remember the flight out of South Carolina to New York or the night flight on Alitalia that brought us to Rome.

She squeezed my hand as we said good morning to the portiere and stepped out into the bright light.

The waiting man turned his back and lit another cigarette. Then he pretended to read a historical marker placed just above the door of the farmacia.

"You won't fight him, will you, Daddy?" Leah asked.

"You've got my word I won't fight him. You think I'm stupid? After what happened last time."

"It scared me when you went to jail," she said.

"Not half as badly as it scared me. Rome ended your daddy's boxing career."

"All the nuns know you were in prison at Regina Coeli," she said, with great eight-year-old disapproval. "Even Suor Rosaria. It's very embarrassing."

"It was a cultural misunderstanding," I explained as we walked through the crowded piazza. "Il Gigante thought he had to kick ass. It was an error in judgment that any American could have made."

"You owe me a thousand lire," Leah said.

"I didn't say a cuss word. I don't owe you a dime."

"You said the "A' word. That's a thousand lire."

"Ass is not a cuss word. It means a small donkey and it comes from the Bible. Let's see: "They rode Jesus through the city seated on a small ass.'"

"That's not how you used the word," she said. "If you're fair about it you'll give me a thousand lire."

"I'm an adult," I said. "It's part of my job description to be totally unfair to every child I meet."

"I was in prison with you," Leah said, primly. "Suor Rosaria thinks you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

"I was victimized by a male-dominated society that didn't understand me."

"You were a brute," said Leah.

Anytime I lost my temper, raised my voice, or found myself in a situation that contained the seeds of discord, Leah would remind me of my most contentious encounter with the habits and customs of Italy. It happened in our first months in Rome, when I was still acclimating myself to the myriad responsibilities a man encountered trying to raise a child single-handedly in a foreign city.

Every day I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer variety of needs and wants manufactured by this simple child. Leah made me feel as though I required the skills of a city manager to move her through all the mazelike conundrums that Rome could throw up in our paths. Through an act of faith I had discovered the right pediatrician. To get a telephone installed required three trips to city hall, four to the telephone company, three bribes of hard cash, and a case of good wine to the portiere who knew the brother of a friend who lived next door to the mayor of Rome. The city prided itself on the extremism of its inefficiency. Its good-natured anarchy left me exhausted at the end of each day.

But I had encountered no trouble in Rome until I relaxed my guard and found myself shopping near midday beneath the canopies that shaded those fabulous fruit and vegetable stands in the Campo dei Fiori. As I led my daughter through that squawking aviary of human commerce, I loved to study the vast tiers of fruit with the wasps sipping the nectar of plums and yellow jackets happy as puppies among the grapes and peaches. Pointing out the wasps to Leah, I admired out loud the accord that existed between the wasps and vendors as if they had signed a treaty of entente to underscore their partnership in the business of selling and eating fruit.

The sheer theater of the street life in the Campo enthralled Leah from our first week in the neighborhood. Each day, we would drift from the north end where we bought bread to our last stop at Fratelli Ruggeri, whose shop smelled of cheese and pork and whose ceiling was hung with fifty legs of prosciutto. Huge wheels of Parmesan cheese as large as truck tires were rolled out from the back. There were five brothers and each brother had a unique and tragic personality as though they had bit parts in five different operas. Each was a law unto himself and they lent a note of improvisation and theater to the selling of their fragrant produce. It was outside of their store that I ran into trouble when I remembered I had forgotten to buy olives.

As Leah and I again walked the length of the Campo, past the knife-sharpener on his stationary bicycle and the booths that sold lungs and offal, we ran straight into one of those fire-breathing marital scraps of the De Angelo couple. Though it took us a while to learn their names, I had witnessed several fights between Mimmo and Sophia De Angelo before in the Piazza Farnese. Mimmo was a laborer and an alcoholic and could often be seen with a bottle of grappa drinking alone on the stone bench that ran for fifty meters across the front of the palazzo. He was stocky and built low to the ground with hairy shoulders and thick, powerful arms. When sitting in the piazza drinking grappa from the bottle, he seemed to grow dark rather than drunk.

Once the darkness came he began muttering expletives at everything about his life that he found disappointing. His wife would generally come upon him in this condition and their screaming at each other was loud enough to be heard by pedestrians walking along the Tiber and those coming out of the Piazza Navona. Whatever protocols the De Angelos kept in the privacy of their apartment did not apply to their violent public encounters. Leah and I had watched several of them from our window high over the piazza, and for sheer volume and quality of invective this Roman couple were in a class by themselves. The quarrels usually ended with a distraught and weeping Sophia breaking into a shameful run back to her home after realizing that the whole piazza was listening to and thoroughly enjoying the couple's histrionics.

"He's mean," Leah had said.

"Italians don't hit," I assured her. "They just yell."

But these domestic quarrels between the De Angelos began to grow in frequency and decibels. Sophia was pretty and theatrical and ten years younger than her hard, inattentive husband. Her legs were beautiful, her figure full, and her eyes brimmed with pain. Each day Mimmo drank more and Sophia wept more and their level of language became more charged with the ancient sorrow of the poor and the hopeless. Maria told me Mimmo was threatening to kill Sophia because she'd shamed him among his neighbors and that a man was nothing if he lost his sense of honor before his friends and countrymen.

Meet the Author

Pat Conroy is the bestselling author of The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, and Beach Music. He lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina.

Brief Biography

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

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Beach Music 4.5 out of 5 based on 1 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 12 months 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.