The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

( 76 )

Overview

In this powerful and intimate memoir, the beloved bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and his father, the inspiration for The Great Santini, find some common ground at long last.

Pat Conroy’s father, Donald Patrick Conroy, was a towering figure in his son’s life. The Marine Corps fighter pilot was often brutal, cruel, and violent; as Pat says, “I hated my father long before I knew there was an English word for ‘hate.’” As the oldest of ...

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The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

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Overview

In this powerful and intimate memoir, the beloved bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and his father, the inspiration for The Great Santini, find some common ground at long last.

Pat Conroy’s father, Donald Patrick Conroy, was a towering figure in his son’s life. The Marine Corps fighter pilot was often brutal, cruel, and violent; as Pat says, “I hated my father long before I knew there was an English word for ‘hate.’” As the oldest of seven children who were dragged from military base to military base across the South, Pat bore witness to the toll his father’s behavior took on his siblings, and especially on his mother, Peg. She was Pat’s lifeline to a better world—that of books and culture. But eventually, despite repeated confrontations with his father, Pat managed to claw his way toward a life he could have only imagined as a child.
     Pat’s great success as a writer has always been intimately linked with the exploration of his family history. While the publication of The Great Santini brought Pat much acclaim, the rift it caused with his father brought even more attention. Their long-simmering conflict burst into the open, fracturing an already battered family. But as Pat tenderly chronicles here, even the oldest of wounds can heal. In the final years of Don Conroy’s life, he and his son reached a rapprochement of sorts. Quite unexpectedly, the Santini who had freely doled out physical abuse to his wife and children refocused his ire on those who had turned on Pat over the years. He defended his son’s honor.
     The Death of Santini is at once a heart-wrenching account of personal and family struggle and a poignant lesson in how the ties of blood can both strangle and offer succor. It is an act of reckoning, an exorcism of demons, but one whose ultimate conclusion is that love can soften even the meanest of men, lending significance to one of the most-often quoted lines from Pat’s bestselling novel The Prince of Tides: “In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.”

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Pat Conroy's first novel made him famous, became the subject of an Oscar-nominated film, and helped destroy his marriage. His 1976 The Great Santini was largely autobiographical, offering a disturbing portrait of a domineering, abusive military father and the effects his treatment had on his children. Conroy's family vehemently objected to this betrayal of family secrets; some even picketed bookstores in protest. Perhaps strangely though, this cathartic fiction helped repair the very real breach between Don Conroy and his seven offspring. Described by one early reader as "a valentine to his father," The Death of Santini recounts the close relationship Pat Conroy and his dad shared in the latter's final years.

Publishers Weekly
12/09/2013
Making amends is on Conroy's mind in his 11th book. Over the years unflattering versions of his parents and siblings have popped up in books like The Great Santini and Prince of Tides. Here fiction meets reality in scenes of his mother going after his abusive father with a knife, constant verbal onslaughts from all directions, and mental breakdowns of several family members. That his siblings discount some of his claims is tossed aside as selective memory on their parts. Conroy has a job to do, that of mythologizing the clan for all time. His mother becomes Lady Macbeth and his father a noble ex-Marine who says his son lies about the family while also going on book tours and giving interviews on CNN. While the intent may have been to paint a more honest picture of his parents, Conroy only shows himself to be insecure about the legacy of his books. He connects jealousy over his writing to the death of his brother Tom Conroy and to the madness of his sister Carol Ann Conroy. These connections seem mostly in his head and are rendered in histrionic sappy prose. In the end his picture of the Conroy clan is one of deeply flawed people convinced the world is against them, those aspects are fetishized to an operatic level. But as Conroy points out many times in the book, this could all be in his head. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff Literary Agency. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-09-25
One of the most widely read authors from the American South puts his demons to bed at long last. One doesn't have to have read The Great Santini (1976) to know that Pat Conroy (My Reading Life, 2010, etc.) was deeply scarred by his childhood. It is the theme of his work and his life, from the love-hate relationship in The Lords of Discipline (1980) to broken Tom Wingo in The Prince of Tides (1986) to the mourning survivor Jack McCall in Beach Music (1995). In this memoir, Conroy unflinchingly reveals that his father, fighter pilot Donald Conroy, was actually much worse than the abusive Meechum in his novel. Telling the truth also forces the author to confront a number of difficult realizations about himself. "I was born with a delusion in my soul that I've fought a rearguard battle with my entire life," he writes. "Though I'm very much my mother's boy, it has pained me to admit the blood of Santini rushes hard and fast in my bloodstream. My mother gave me a poet's sensibility; my father's DNA assured me that I was always ready for a fight, and that I could ride into any fray as a field-tested lord of battle." Conroy lovingly describes his mother, whom he admits he idealized in The Great Santini and corrects for this book. Although his father's fearsome persona never really changed, Conroy learned to forgive and even sympathize with his father, who would attend book signings with his son and good-naturedly satirize his own terrifying image. Less droll is the story of Conroy's younger brother, Tom, who flung himself off a building in a suicidal fit of schizophrenia, and Conroy's combative relationship with his sister, the poet Carol Conroy. It's an emotionally difficult journey that should lend fans of Conroy's fiction an insightful back story to his richly imagined characters. The moving true story of an unforgivable father and his unlikely redemption.
From the Publisher
The Death of Santini instantly reminded me of the decadent pleasures of [Conroy's] language, of his promiscuous gift for metaphor and of his ability, in the finest passages of his fiction, to make the love, hurt or terror a protagonist feels seem to be the only emotion the world could possibly have room for, the rightful center of the trembling universe....Conroy’s conviction pulls you fleetly through the book, as does the potency of his bond with his family, no matter their sins, their discord, their shortcomings.” —Frank Bruni, The New York Times Book Review

“In several of his 12 previous books, bestseller Conroy mined his brutal South Carolina childhood—most directly in the book that became a 1979 hit movie, The Great Santini, about a violent fighter pilot and his defiant son. In this memoir, the 68-year-old sheds the fictional veil, taking ‘one more night flight into the immortal darkness to study that house of pain a final time.’ The result is a painful, lyrical, addictive read that his fans won’t want to miss.” People, 3 ½ out of 4 stars
 
“Despite the inherently bleak nature of so much of this material, Conroy has fashioned a memoir that is vital, large-hearted and often raucously funny. The result is an act of hard-won forgiveness, a deeply considered meditation on the impossibly complex nature of families and a valuable contribution to the literature of fathers and sons.” —The Washington Post

“Conroy remains a brilliant storyteller, a master of sarcasm, and a hallucinatory stylist whose obsession with the impress of the past on the present binds him to Southern literary tradition.” —The Boston Globe

“Conroy has the reflective ability that comes only with age. He has a deeper understanding of his father and the havoc he brought to his family.…But against the backdrop of ugliness and pain, Conroy also describes a certain kind of love, even forgiveness.” —Associated Press

“Conroy writes athletically and beautifully, slicing through painful memories like a point guard splitting the defense….It is a fast but wrenching read, filled with madness and abuse, big-hearted description and snarky sibling dialogue — all as Conroy comes to terms with what he calls ‘the weird-ass ruffled strangeness of the Conroy family.’” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“A heady, irresistible confusion of love and hate, ‘one more night flight into the immortal darkness to study that house of pain one more time,’ to prove how low his princes and princesses of Tides can sink and how high they can soar. True Conroy fans wouldn’t have it any other way.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
 
“An emotionally difficult journey that should lend fans of Conroy’s fiction an insightful back story to his richly imagined characters. The moving true story of an unforgiveable father and his unlikely redemption.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The Atlanta Journal
Conroy is a master of language.
The Washington Post - Chris Bohjalian
Conroy is an immensely gifted stylist . . . No one can describe a tide or a sunset with his lyricism and exactitude.
Houston Chronicle
Reading Pat Conroy is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.
People
Conroy writes with a momentum that's impossible to resist.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Conroy takes aim at our darkest emotions, lets the arrow fly, and hits the bull's-eye almost every time.
The Boston Globe
God preserve Pat Conroy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385530903
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/29/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 43,104
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Pat Conroy is the author of ten previous books: The Boo, The Water Is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, My Losing Season, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life, South of Broad, and My Reading Life. He lives in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Biography

Pat Conroy was born on October 26, 1945, in Atlanta, Georgia, to a young career military officer from Chicago and a Southern beauty from Alabama, whom Pat often credits for his love of language. He was the first of seven children.

His father was a violent and abusive man, a man whose biggest mistake, Conroy once said, was allowing a novelist to grow up in his home, a novelist "who remembered every single violent act... my father's violence is the central fact of my art and my life." Since the family had to move many times to different military bases around the South, Pat changed schools frequently, finally attending the Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, upon his father's insistence. While still a student, he wrote and then published his first book, The Boo, a tribute to a beloved teacher.

After graduation, Conroy taught English in Beaufort, where he met and married a young woman with two children, a widow of the Vietnam War. He then accepted a job teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, a remote island off the South Carolina shore. After a year, Pat was fired for his unconventional teaching practices -- such as his unwillingness to allow corporal punishment of his students -- and for his general lack of respect for the school's administration. Conroy evened the score when he exposed the racism and appalling conditions his students endured with the publication of The Water is Wide in 1972. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was made into the feature film Conrack, starring Jon Voight.

Following the birth of a daughter, the Conroys moved to Atlanta, where Pat wrote his novel, The Great Santini, published in 1976. This autobiographical work, later made into a powerful film starring Robert Duvall, explored the conflicts of his childhood, particularly his confusion over his love and loyalty to an abusive and often dangerous father.

The publication of a book that so painfully exposed his family's secret brought Conroy to a period of tremendous personal desolation. This crisis resulted not only in his divorce but the divorce of his parents; his mother presented a copy of The Great Santini to the judge as "evidence" in divorce proceedings against his father.

The Citadel became the subject of his next novel, The Lords of Discipline, published in 1980. The novel exposed the school's harsh military discipline, racism and sexism. This book, too, was made into a feature film.

Pat remarried and moved from Atlanta to Rome where he began The Prince of Tides which, when published in 1986, became his most successful book. Reviewers immediately acknowledged Conroy as a master storyteller and a poetic and gifted prose stylist. This novel has become one of the most beloved novels of modern time—with over five million copies in print, it has earned Conroy an international reputation. The Prince of Tides was made into a highly successful feature film directed by Barbra Streisand, who also starred in the film opposite Nick Nolte, whose brilliant performance won him an Oscar nomination.

Beach Music (1995), Conroy's sixth book, was the story of Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife's suicidal leap off a bridge in South Carolina. The story took place in South Carolina and Rome, and also reached back in time to the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. This book, too, was a tremendous international bestseller.

While on tour for Beach Music, members of Conroy's Citadel basketball team began appearing, one by one, at his book signings around the country. When his then-wife served him divorce papers while he was still on the road, Conroy realized that his team members had come back into his life just when he needed them most. And so he began reconstructing his senior year, his last year as an athlete, and the 21 basketball games that changed his life. The result of these recollections, along with flashbacks of his childhood and insights into his early aspirations as a writer, is My Losing Season, Conroy's seventh book and his first work of nonfiction since The Water is Wide.

He currently lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina with his wife, the novelist Cassandra King.

Author biography courtesy of Pat Conroy's official web site.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Donald Patrick Conroy (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      San Francisco and South Carolina
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 26, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Atlanta, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.A.,The Citadel, 1967

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 76 )
Rating Distribution

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(42)

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(13)

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(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 76 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 29, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Pat Conroy is, plain and simple, a brilliant author. The Great S

    Pat Conroy is, plain and simple, a brilliant author. The Great Santini is one of my favorite films and it is sheer delight to get to known the man who influenced this story. Conroy writes with honesty that jumps off the page. I loved this book and highly recommend it.

    17 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2013

    Pat Conroy's new memoir of life with his outstandingly awful par

    Pat Conroy's new memoir of life with his outstandingly awful parents and often barely sane siblings is so brave and beautiful that it has left me nearly breathless. This work is to my mind so superior to The Great Santini that I am astounded. Each sentence is a specially crafted tribute to truth. Who says genius fades? In Pat Conroy's case, his art has just become clearer, sharper and bolder. Thank you, Pat Conroy. If you love The Great Santini, you  will not be able to stop reading this. If you loved South of Broad, you will wonder at this man's ability to find the kindness that gives that work life. 

    14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    I have read everyone of Pat Conroy's books and loved all of them. The Death of Santini was touching, laugh out loud funny at times, honest.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 23, 2013

    Brilliant

    Pat Conroy is one of the most brilliant writers America has ever produced. This book is a raw, insightful look at his family and the final days of the Great Santini. Highly recommend.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2013

    Great book

    This is a really funny and sad story. His reflections on his family made me laugh out loud, and made me cry. His phrasing is unlike any other author, I would recognise his work without his name on the cover. No one writes quite like him.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2013

    Highest form of navel contemplation

    I am not a big fan of this "my troubles are so much greater than your troubles" genre. About halfway through I grew very tired of the pity party. Yes, poor Pat despite your millions, you are just a poor misunderstood boy. A boy who is serially unfaithful to his wives, sucks apacifier through numerous nervous breakdowns, and wants to communicate this crap to me. Please, curl up in your wet little diaper and wipe your snotty little nose. We all have problems. Being rich and famous does not make yours more interesting. Please tell a story next time and ditch the attempts to explain yourself. I for one, am not buying it.

    3 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2013

    Not his best book

    I like Pat Conroy's writing, but I think he "overwrote" in this book. I found the description of his mother's illness especially unpleasant; I am not one who enjoys the most graphic details of an illness. I did finish this book and I don't finish every book I start and I will continue to read Mr. Conroy's books but I do not recommend this one except to avid fans of the author.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 19, 2013

    This is a "tell it like it is" story of the life of Pa

    This is a "tell it like it is" story of the life of Pat Conroy's family, specifically involving his father--"THE Great Santini".  I believe Conroy is one of the very best of American writers.  This story comes from his memories of his life with his family----memories that are admittedly different for each Conroy family member.  After years of best sellers with fictitious names telling family stories, this gets to the heart of this family with real names and memories.  




    I have a special interest in Pat Conroy's writings because my husband was also a '67 Citadel graduate, and one of Boo's Boys (Conroy's first book).  Conroy also spoke about his family at a CASA ( Court Appointed Special Advocate--working with abused and neglected children) conference that I attended in Charleston, SC when I was a CASA.  Name dropping??-- Pat Conroy wouldn't know me if he ran into me on the street.  But, these things have added another level of enjoyment to books that needed nothing additional to become favorites in my library!!




    Pat is the eldest of seven children born to a Chicago Irish Catholic highly decorated Marine pilot, and a beautiful daughter of a snake handling religious fanatic from the back woods country and a mother who deserted her four young children to defend for themselves.  Pat's young life saw him going from place to place where ever his father was stationed at the time.  Violence and love centered a difficult and volition family life, resulting in five of the seven kids eventually trying to commit suicide, with the youngest son eventually succeeding. 




    But the real beauty of this ranting family life, is the continual love-hate relationship between everyone in the family.  After The Great Santini was published, Pat was demonized by most of his family, but his father---"THE Great Santini"---took perverse pleasure in referring to himself by that name for the rest of his life.  The movie version somehow brought family members back together again in a mixing bowl of emotions.  This book is Pat's version of a famous line from his book, The Prince Of Tides: " in families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness."




    Though memories can be different for members of a family who lived through the same events, the raw emotions, and spectacularly open and dramatic telling of this story by Pat Conroy, makes this a timeless story of many families where violence harms and divides families, children and marriages take a beating figuratively and literally, and love and forgiveness manages to inch their way into people's hearts.  Though this could have been a morbid tale if told be a different author, Pat Conroy brings this story into the realm of timeless story telling because of the explosive personality of someone who can get right to the heart of a classic tale!  Wonderfully told and expertly written!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2013

    WOW!!! Highly recommended!!

    The reader gets to really know Pat and his whole family and history. Every family has its problems and faults, as the author notes, and this book shares his family's best and hardest times. I hardly could pause. There are points I and others will disagree on. For example, I'd love to see him write a follow up book on how many liberal educational policies have harmed current minority children, especially in reading education. But even with disagreement in his political "idols" this book was "great" on so many levels. He revisited many of the themes from his former books with more information and insight. However, this book is interesting even if you have not read his other novels. This will make you want to read or reread them again. Highly recommended. I'd also like to recommend a "new" author on the Nook - William Jarvis. His novel, based on true events during World War II, "The Partisan" is also excellent and is also highly recommended. Both deserve A+++++

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2013

    Loved it

    A perfect tribute to the Great Santini.very real and honest in tbe complications of the aftermath of dysfunction and great love.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2013

    Conroy's art of storytelling has never been better!

    Conroy's art of storytelling has never been better!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    Few writers could tell their own story as candidly as Pat Conroy

    Few writers could tell their own story as candidly as Pat Conroy tells his in The Death of Santini. Part of me wishes I hadn't read this book. It was an emotional roller coaster ride for me. But then, most of his fiction affected me the same way. Discovering that all those books I've read by him were based on his experiences had me reliving those reading experiences. That made it a slow read. I could only digest so much at one sitting. I found Pat Conroy, the man, to be brave, flawed, passionate and probably more like The Great Santini than he realized before this introspection. No one could come away doubting that abusive parents affect the entire lives of their children. You don't "outgrow" the damage. Conroy transcends it, mostly successfully. I recommend this book, bur it is not for the feint of heart.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2013

    Another great one by Conroy.

    I loved the book! Pat writes so beautifully and knows how to tell a story. A great example of forgiveness. Bless his heart!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2013

    A "Must Read" for Pat Conroy fans

    Pat Conroy doesn't dissapoint with The Death of Santini. Even someone that has never read any of his books will enjoy this one.
    Long Live Pat Conroy!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 11, 2013

    Great read Conroy does it again

    A great story of one of the most dysfunctional families in the world. Glad to see there was some reconciliation before Don Conroy's death.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2013

    Another great from one of the greatest

    I am sure some people will rate this book as self indulgent. I saw it, however, as a literary tribute to Conroy's pain. He didn't sugarcoat how he felt about his somewhat dysfunctional family. It took courage to write it the way he did and helped me to understand the power our family has over us. I only hope his future works will possess the same power given that the author says this is the last book he will write based on the pain of his upbringing. Conroy's writing is so eloquent it is a true treat to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2014

    Monatonous detail

    Initially interesting but became quicky boreing with repetitive wearesome emotional family strife.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Disappointing

    Conroy goes too in depth on subjects that are irrelevant to "Santini" (ie. the never-ending chapter on his maternal grandmother) and not in depth enough on the really interesting enigmatic areas of the family dynamic. For example, WHY does Carol Ann hate her mother and Pat so much? WHY did brother Tom loathe Pat so much? He skims past several mentions of his mental breakdowns/suicidal thoughts, but speaks of the generosity of neighbors bringing mourning food ad nauseum. He also overuses sentences that begin with "that". I'm starting to think that maybe the family is right about him not being a great writer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2014

    Sandwing

    Runs to cliff and jumps off of it dying

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  • Posted February 14, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    A Bittersweet Memoir

    The Death of Santini, a memoir was a difficult book to read at times, as Pat was a victim of a scarred childhood carried though to his adult life – his anger, failed marriages his own demons, dark secrets, breakdowns, the suicide of his youngest brother, Tom, (5 of the children attempted suicide), the death of his mother.

    When he published his novel “The Great Santini”, was a fictionalized version of his father which caused great controversy; and this one was the nonfictional account of his life with his abusive father. The book opened up his father and they began a journey to help make peace with the past. This book is about second chances of dysfunctional families and wars waged within and forgiveness – Thought provoking, powerful, emotional, tragic, yet moving and written from the heart.

    Don Conroy expected total obedience from his children and ruled the house with a military discipline. The background of both Pat and Don, led to their extreme expectations of all sorts of behavior. However, during all the turmoil, there was something almost heroic about the way the family rallied during the most difficult times, which could prove they loved one another in their own way.

    This book is a more honest account of family versus the prior book and heartbreaking. Pat Conroy opens up his raw feelings of abuse based on real events- Highly recommend for southern Pat Conroy fans, opening his personal connections, his life, and his writing. As usual, he interjects humor and expressive way of telling the story, making it easier to read with all the sadness.

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