The Great Santini

The Great Santini

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by Pat Conroy

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Step into the powerhouse life of Bull Meecham. He’s all Marine—fighter pilot, king of the clouds, and absolute ruler of his family. Lillian is his wife—beautiful, southern-bred, with a core of velvet steel. Without her cool head, her kids would be in real trouble. Ben is the oldest, a born athlete whose best never satisfies the big man.

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Step into the powerhouse life of Bull Meecham. He’s all Marine—fighter pilot, king of the clouds, and absolute ruler of his family. Lillian is his wife—beautiful, southern-bred, with a core of velvet steel. Without her cool head, her kids would be in real trouble. Ben is the oldest, a born athlete whose best never satisfies the big man. Ben’s got to stand up, even fight back, against a father who doesn’t give in—not to his men, not to his wife, and certainly not to his son. Bull Meecham is undoubtedly Pat Conroy’s most explosive character—a man you should hate, but a man you will love.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Reading Pat Conroy is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.”—Houston Chronicle

“Robust and vivid . . . full of feeling.”—Newsday

“Tender, raucous, often hilarious.”—Booklist

“A fine, funny, brawling book.”—The National Observer

“Stinging authenticity . . . a book that won’t quit.”—The Atlanta Journal

“[Pat] Conroy has captured a different slice of America in this funny, dramatic novel.”—Richmond News-Leader
“Conroy takes aim at our darkest emotions, lets the arrow fly and hits the bull’s-eye almost every time.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Reprinted Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In the Cordova Hotel, near the docks of Barcelona, fourteen Marine Corps fighter pilots from the aircraft carrier Forrestal were throwing an obstreperously spirited going away party for Lieutenant Colonel Bull Meecham, the executive officer of their carrier based squadron. The pilots had been drinking most of the day and the party was taking a swift descent toward mayhem. It was a sign to Bull Meecham that he was about to have a fine and memorable turbulent time.

The commanding officer of the squadron, Ty Mullinax, had passed out in the early part of the afternoon and was resting in a beatific position on the table in the center of the room, his hands folded across his chest and a bouquet of lilies carefully placed in his zipper, rising out of his groin.

The noise from the party had risen in geometrically spiraling quantities in irregular intervals since the affair had begun shortly after noon. In the beginning it had been a sensible, often moving affair, a coming together of soldiers and gentlemen to toast and praise a warrior departing their ranks. But slowly, the alcohol established its primacy over the last half of the party and as darkness approached and the outline of warships along the harbor became accented with light, the maitre d' of the Cordova Hotel walked into the room to put an end to the going away party that had begun to have the sound effects of a small war.

He would like to have had the Marines thrown out by calling the Guardia Civil but too much of his business depended on the American officers who had made his hotel and restaurant their headquarters whenever the fleet came to Barcelona. The guests in his restaurant had begun to complain vigorously about the noise and obscenity coming from the room that was directly off the restaurant. Even the music of a flamenco band did not overpower or even cancel out the clamor and tumult that spilled out of the room. The maitre d' was waiting for Captain Weber, a naval captain who commanded a cruiser attached to the fleet, to bring his lady in for dinner, but his reservation was not until 9 o'clock. He took a deep breath, opened the door, and walked toward the man who looked as if he was in charge.

"Hey, Pedro, what can I do for you?" Bull Meecham asked.

The maitre d' was a small, elegant man who looked up toward a massive, red-faced man who stood six feet four inches tall and weighed over two hundred and twenty pounds.

Before the maitre d' could speak he noticed the prone body of Colonel Mullinax lying on the long dining table in the center of the room.

"What is wrong with this man?" the maitre d' demanded.

"He's dead, Pedro," Bull answered.

"You joke with me, no."

"No, Pedro."

"He still breathe."

"Muscle spasms. Involuntary," Bull said as the other pilots whooped and laughed behind him. "He's dead all right and we got to leave him here, Pedro. The fleet's pulling out any time now and we won't have time for a funeral. But we'll be back to pick him up in about six months. And that's a promise. I just don't want you to move him from this table."

"No, senor," the maitre d' said, staring with rising discomfort at the unconscious aviator, "you joke with me. I no mind the joke. I come to ask you to keep down the noise and please not break up any more furniture or throw your glasses. Some naval officers have complained very much."

"Oh, dearie me," said Bull. "You mean the naval officers don't like to hear us throwing glasses?"

"No, senor."

Bull turned toward the far wall and, giving a signal to the other pilots in the room, all thirteen of them hurled their glasses into the fireplace already littered with bright shards of glass.

"It will be charged to your bill, senor," the maitre d' said.

"Beat it, Pedro," Bull said. "When I want a tortilla I'll give you a call."

"But, senor, I have other guests. Many of the officers in the Navy and their ladies. They ask me what the noise is. What am I to do?"

"I'll handle them, Pedro," Bull said. "You run along now and chew on a couple of tacos while the boys and I finish up here. We should be done partying about a week from now."

"No, senor. Please, senor. My other guests."

When the maitre d' closed the door behind him, Bull walked over and made himself another drink. The other pilots crowded around him and did likewise.

With a strong Texas accent, Major Sammy Funderburk said, "I did a little recon job early this here morning here. And I saw me some strange and willing nookie walking around the lobby of this here hotel here."

"You know me better than that," Bull said. "I'm saving my body for my wife."

"Since when, Colonel?" one of the young lieutenants shouted over the laughter.

"Since very early this morning," Bull replied.

"This here squadron here is the toughest bunch of Marine aviators ever assembled on this here God's green earth here," Sammy bellowed.

"Hear ye! Hear ye!" the others agreed.

"I'd like to offer a toast," Bull shouted above the din, and the room quieted. "I'd like to toast the greatest Marine fighter pilot that ever shit between two shoes." He lifted his drink high in the air and continued his toast as the other pilots elevated their glasses. "This man has lived without fear, has done things with an airplane that other men have never done, has spit in death's eye a thousand times, and despite all this has managed to retain his Christ-like humility. Gentlemen, I ask you to lift your glasses and join me in toasting Colonel Bull Meecham."

Amid the hisses and jeers that followed this toast, Captain Ronald Bookout whispered to Bull, "Sir, I think we might get into a little trouble if we don't hold it down a little. I just peeked out toward the restaurant and there are a lot of Navy types in there. I'd hate for you to get in trouble on your last night in Europe."

"Captain," Bull said loudly so the other Marines would hear his reply, "there's something you don't understand about the Navy. The Navy expects us to be wild. That's so they can feel superior to us. They think we're something out of the ice age and it is entirely fittin' that we maintain this image. They expect us to be primitive, son, and it is a sin, a mortal sin, for a Marine ever to let a goddam squid think we are related to them in any way. Hell, if I found out that Naval Academy grads liked to screw women, I'd give serious consideration to becoming a pansy. As a Marine, and especially as a Marine fighter pilot, you've got to constantly keep 'em on their toes. I can see them out there now mincing around like they've got icicles stuck up their butts. They think the Corps is some kind of anal fungus they got to put up with."

"Hell, I'd rather go to war against the Navy than the Russians," Ace Norbett declared.

"Ace, that's always been one of my dreams that the Navy and the Marine Corps go to war. I figure it would take at least fifteen minutes for Marine aviators to make Navy aviators an extinct form of animal life," Bull said.

"They'd have supremacy on the sea, though," Captain Bookout said.

"Let 'em have it. The thing I want to see is those swabbies storming a beach. I bet three Marines could secure a beach against the whole U.S. Navy. Hell, I could hold off half the Navy with just a slingshot and six pissed-off, well-trained oysters on the half shell."

A long whoop and clamor with whistling and foot-stomping arose in the room. It took an extended moment for the room to fall silent when the maitre d' appeared in the doorway accompanied by an aroused Navy captain. The maitre d' smiled triumphantly as he watched the captain stare with majestic disapproval at the assembled Marines, some of whom had snapped to attention as soon as the Navy captain had materialized in the doorway. The power of rank to silence military men survived even into the pixilated frontiers and distant boundaries of drunkenness.

"Who is the senior officer in this group?" the captain snapped.

"He is, sir," Lieutenant Colonel Meecham said, pointing to Ty Mullinax.

"Identify yourself, Colonel."

"Lieutenant Colonel W.P. Meecham, sir," Bull answered.

"What's wrong with that man, Colonel?" the captain said, pointing to Colonel Mullinax.

"He's had the flu, sir. It's weakened him."

"Don't be smart with me, Colonel, unless you wish to subsist on major's pay the rest of your time in the military. Now I was trying to have a pleasant dinner tonight with my wife who flew over from Villa France to join me. There are at least ten other naval officers dining with their ladies and we would appreciate your cooperation in clearing out of this hotel and taking your ungentlemanly conduct elsewhere."

"Sir, this is a going away party for me, sir," Bull explained.

"Your departure should improve the image of the fleet considerably, Colonel. Now I strongly suggest you drink up and get back to the ship."

"Could we take one last drink at the bar, Captain? If we promise to behave like gentlemen?"

"One. And then I don't want to see you anywhere near the area," the captain said as he left the room.

The maitre d' lingered after the captain departed. "Do you wish to have the bill now, senor?" he said to Bull. "It will include the broken glasses and damaged furniture."

"Sure, Pedro," Bull answered. "Better add a doctor bill that you'll have when I punch your taco-lovin' eyes out."

"You Marines are nothing but trouble," the maitre d' said, easing toward the door.

"I'd sure like to take me a dead maitre d' home from this here party here," Major Funderburk said.

"We'll be at the bar, Pedro," Bull called to the retreating maitre d'. Then he turned to the Texan and asked, "Hey, Sammy, did you bring that can of mushroom soup?"

"Got it right here, Colonel."

"You bring something to open it with?"


"Ace," Bull called across the room, "you got the spoons?"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Now, young pilots," Bull said, gathering the whole squadron around him, "yes, young pilots, innocent as the wind driven snow, us old flyboys are going to show you how to take care of the pompous Navy types when the occasion arises. Now that used jock strap of a captain that was just in here thinks he just taught the caveman a lesson in etiquette and good breeding. He's bragging to his wife right now about how he had us trembling and scared shitless he was going to write us up. Now I want all of you to go to the bar, listen to the music, and act like perfect gentlemen. Then watch Bull, Ace, and Sammy, three of the wildest goddam fighter pilots, steal the floorshow from those cute little flamingo dancers."

The band was playing loudly when the Marines entered the restaurant and headed as decorously as their condition permitted for seats at the bar. Their appearance was greeted with hostile stares that shimmered almost visibly throughout the room. The captain's wife leaned over to say something to her husband, something that made both of them smile.

When the band took a break, Bull slipped the opened can of mushroom soup into his uniform shirt pocket. He winked at Ace and Sammy, drained his martini, then rose from his bar stool unsteadily and staggered toward the stage the band had just left. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the captain and the other naval officers shaking their heads condescendingly. Their wives watched Bull in fascination, expecting him to fall to the floor at any moment, enjoying the spectacle of a Marine wobbling toward some uncertain and humiliating rendezvous near the band platform more than they had the music itself.

When Bull reached the lights of the stage, he fell to one knee, contorted his face in the pre-agony of nausea, then threw his head forward violently, pretending to vomit. The sound effects brought every fork in the restaurant down. As he retched, Bull spilled the mushroom soup out of the pocket, letting it roll off his chin and mouth before it dripped onto the stage. Bull heard Weber's wife say, "My Lord." She left the captain's table running but threw up before she passed three tables. Two other Navy wives passed her without so much as a glance as they sprinted toward the ladies' room. On stage, Bull was still retching and puking and burping, lost completely in the virtuosity of his performance. Bull rose up on shivery legs, and staggered back to the bar, his eyes uncomprehending and dulled with alcohol.

Ace and Sammy, taking their cue, pulled out their spoons and in a desperate foot race with each other dove onto the stage as soon as Bull ceased to throw up. Their faces were twisted hideously as they grunted their way to the stage and began spooning the mushroom soup into their mouths. Ace and Sammy began to fight each other over the soup. Sammy jumped on Ace's back as Ace tried to spoon more of it into his mouth. Finally, Sammy pushed Ace off the platform and screamed at him, "Goddammit, it just ain't fair, Ace. You're gettin' all the meat."

The next morning Bull Meecham was ordered to report to the office of Colonel Luther Windham, the commanding officer of the Marine group attached to the Forrestal. Colonel Windham was hunched over a report when Bull peeked through the door and said, "Yes, sir, Luther?"

Luther Windham looked up with a stern, proconsular gaze that began to come apart around his eyes and mouth when he saw Bull's bright and guiltless smile. "As you may have guessed, Bull, this is a serious meeting. Captain Weber called me up last night, woke me up, and read me the riot act for fifteen minutes. He wants to write you up. He wants me to write you up. And he wants to get Congress to pass a law to make it a capital offense for you to cross the border of an American ally."

"Did he tell you his wife blew her lunch all over the Cordova?"

"Yes, Bull, and he still thinks that Ace and Sammy chowed down on your vomit. He said that he had never seen such a spectacle performed by officers and gentlemen in his entire life."

"Shit, Luth. Ace and Punchy were just a little hungry. God, I love having fun with those high ranked, tight-assed squids."

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The Great Santini (Enhanced Edition) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Great Santini is a life changing novel. The story will make you laugh at times and cry at times, leaving you full of emotions and empty of boredom. Bull Meechem, who likes to call himself “the Great Santini”, is a fighter pilot who directs his military family in a life he thinks is the best. The Meechem family is like most military families, so The Great Santini gives you a taste of the military life.  Pat Conroy portrays Bull Meechem as a sarcastic, tough, and strict father who should be despised throughout the novel. When reading about the hard life of the Meechem family, one will learn about their moves, their new schools, their new friends, and the toll it takes on their entire family. This leaves the reader full of emotions mostly forlorn. Despite the sorrowful feelings you will laugh at funny moments and character’s sarcastic ways. The story leaves one feeling shocked by changing a point of view on Bull Meechem. A reader will learn from this book why Bull and other military fathers are the way they are. The Great Santini will make you think about life when you are finished reading it, it’s not something you will forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Picture this a grown man hitting his 17 year old son with a basketball asking him to cry, intrigued? Good. The book “ The Great Santini” by Pat Conroy will interest you so much you will never want to stop reading! Each character has such crazy personalities which makes the book worth reading , you will be able to look on the spontaneous Meecham family life. First is the father of the Meecham family, Bull. Bull is a narcissist and thinks he is the gods of the gods. Bull always has to be right and always has to be the winner. Bull calls every one of his family members sportsfans and he calls himself “The Great Santini” and forces his kids to call him that too. When Bull gets angry it is awful because he has the worst temper and to release his angry he uses his family and hits his wife and kids. In the book the time frame is the early 1960’s which leads to Bull being incredibly racist, especially since they live in the South. Bull is truly obsessed and addicted to the Marine Corps; he says throughout the whole book that he is the best goddamn fighter pilot that the Marine Corps have ever seen. There are 4 kids in the Meecham family. There is Mary Anne, Ben, Matt and Karen. Mary Anne is the oldest she is constantly made fun of by her siblings because she’s fat, uses glasses, and has loads of freckles. Mary Anne always gets in trouble with her parents because she has a very sharp tongue and says things she shouldn’t. Then there’s Ben, Ben is the jock of the family because he’s a phenomenal basketball player. Ben is the kid who receives the most anger and the most pressure which really pisses off Ben. Matt is very short and is always picked on by Mary because he’s a “midget”. Karen is the youngest and she’s very quiet and never gets into trouble. Karen wants to be just like her elegant and beautiful mother Lillian and always follows her parent’s orders. This book is good for anyone who loves to read. It’s really interesting because you get to look into a marine’s family life in the 1960’s and all the conflict that goes with it. You will feel emotion while reading this and you will really enjoy the book. It kept me really interested the whole time because you get angry at Bull and want to keep reading to see how things unfold. The book is all American family drama based around the Marine Corps you get to see how a military family is like in America and its very cool because you didn’t realizes how different military families are because of all the conflicts they have to go through. This book is like Batman (Bull being the joker) and The Kids Are All Right in one. If you like strong American pride and the military you’d love this book.
happyreaderKK More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book mostly because of Pt Conroy's writing. The characters you begin to love and at the same time realize how dysfunctional the entire family is. I am reading the rest of Pat CONROY'S BOOKS. I am glad that I read this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My father gave me my 1st Pat Conroy book ' The Great Santini' when I was 12. I dove right in and savored it. I will always remember our talks about Mr. Conroy's books. The Great Santini will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first. It is a story about a complex military family who's children are required to grow up too fast. My heart went out to every member of the family who hurt in their own way. This is not a book to miss!
Ratbch More than 1 year ago
Funny and sad and, like all of Pat Conroy's books, well written. The characters are likeable (except for Santini) and well developed. There really isn't much of a plot, but it does fine without one. I keep asking myself why Conroy puts such descriptive violence in his books; probably thinking it spices up the storyline? Male readers will enjoy the military/aerospace portions of the book and male and female will enjoy Conroy's description of high school angst and brother/sister arguments. I enjoyed this book but liked Beaches or South of Broad more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Great Santini, written by Pat Conroy, encompasses the family of a Marine. This Marine, Bull Meecham, is the father of the Meecham family. Bull acts and speaks very shrewdly in the novel by making his children call him ¿sir¿ and speaking to his family as if they were his ¿marine buddies¿. The core conflict that exists is between Bull and his son, Ben Meecham. Bull would push his son over the edge, and Ben¿s accomplishments meant nothing to his father. To Bull, nothing that Ben had done fulfilled him. Ben became extremely discouraged and strained, that he could not take the hounding any longer. Ben became restless with the ¿yes, sir¿ and ¿no, sir¿ that was repeated daily. Ben¿s only encouragement in his situation was his mother, Lillian Meecham. Lillian was Ben¿s reassurance and aid throughout his unsteady relationship with Bull. She was the one who prevented the family from falling apart and became immune to her husband¿s disgraceful attitude. Lillian adored her family and would accomplish anything for them. From blocking out Bull¿s relentless deeds because she loved him, to comforting her son and reminding him that his accomplishments are recognized and that everyone is proud of him. Lillian provided Ben with hope and faith that one day, he will encounter an affectionate relationship with his father. Any person who reads The Great Santini, might possibly find themselves connecting to the book and altogether understanding the adversity that families endure. This novel confirms that not every family is ideal and in spite of everything, worship your family no matter how many times you differ with their opinions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Conroy you have written an incredible novel. I just finished reading the book and then subsuequentially watched the movie. As, a young father I was tremendously moved by Bull Meechum as a marine and as a father. Although he had his faults which Conroy clearly shows I felt myself really enjoying the strength of his character.Conroy does a great job describing his extreme loyatly to the core and his loyalty to his family. I found myself feeling the same trials and tribultions that each of the characters in the novel went through. I can't wait to read his other novels.
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Lovely storytelling
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just-a-thot More than 1 year ago
Can't say enough about this great story. An American Marine fighter pilot at home with the family while stationed on a Southern AFB. Reminds me of "Sgt. Carter" of Gomer Pyle USMC, in the way this Marine is a Marine thru and thru, and his family is going to be, too! G_d D_m_it !
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Pat Conroy makes everything so belivable and puts it in a way that you dion't want to stop reading.
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