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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Pat Conroy's entire body of published work is rooted in the circumstances of his own life: his southern heritage, his military school background, his adversarial relationship with the brutal, domineering father he would eventually immortalize in The Great Santini. Conroy's latest, the autobiographical My Losing Season, once again revisits these familiar subjects, integrating them into a painstaking account of the author's passionate, ongoing love affair with the game of basketball.
Conroy discovered basketball in Orlando, Florida, at the age of 10, and it changed his life. The sport provided him with a refuge, a place to escape the continuing storms of life in the Conroy household. From that initial encounter until his graduation from college, 12 years later, Conroy devoted the best of himself to his chosen game, which provided "the single outlet for a repressed and preternaturally shy boy to express himself in public." My Losing Season charts the complete arc of Conroy's athletic history, focusing on his years at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, and in particular on his senior season of 196667, when his demoralized team -- the Citadel Bulldogs -- lost 17 games out of 25. The narrative is dominated by a series of vivid, play-by-play accounts of the high and low points of an alternately inspiring and dispiriting season.
Bringing a novelist's eye and a sportsman's expertise to bear on some highly charged memories, Conroy illuminates his losing season with humor, passion, and hard-won wisdom. Highlights -- and there are many -- include a viscerally exciting re-creation of the longest game in college history, with the Citadel defeating rival military school VMI in quadruple overtime. Conroy supplements this material with empathetic portraits of his beleaguered teammates, his hard, unyielding head coach, Mel Thompson, and a host of ancillary characters. Chief among these is the Great Santini himself, Colonel Don Conroy, whose withering assessments and reflexive violence set the tone for Conroy's adolescence.
By placing all this in the larger context of life at the Citadel during the turbulent 1960s, Conroy has created a unique, compelling reminiscence that is also a useful companion piece to his 1980 novel, The Lords of Discipline. Though its power is sometimes undercut by bursts of melodramatic purple prose (an inevitable aspect of any Pat Conroy book), My Losing Season is powered, for the most part, by its conviction, its emotional urgency, and its raw narrative energy. By forcing his way back to the sometimes painful center of that seminal season, Conroy has produced a cumulatively affecting meditation on time, memory, comradeship, and the enduring lessons of loss. In the process, he has provided a credible -- and indispensable -- portrait of his own evolution as a writer and as a man. My Losing Season is one of Conroy's finest creations to date. Don't let this one pass you by. Bill Sheehan