This morning I finished Beach Music, another book that has served to solidify my deep love of Pat Conroy.
The book was fabulous. Completely and utterly fabulous. It is a whopping 768 pages long, prompting one fellow coffee shop patron to ask me if it was helpful in my workouts, as I was lifting the gargantuan thing out of my bag. But it was completely worth it. So many stories, beautifully told.
The thing about Pat Conroy it seems, is that he has a gift for telling stories that are moving, beautiful, and wondrous, and also stories that are deeply disturbing. This book was a roller coaster ride that had tears of joy as well as sadness and horror. It was not an easy book, but many wonderful books are not.
The story follows Jack McCall, a foodie and travel writer from South Carolina. After the tragic suicide of his wife, he moves with his young daughter to Rome, swearing to never return to his birthplace or speak with his family or the family of his wife ever again. He is eventually driven home after hearing of his mother’s devastating cancer. Upon returning, he is confronted with his past, his decisions, and the stories that led to his self created exile.
This book covers the mental illness of his wife, her family’s history with the Holocaust, and how that contributed to her mental state. It covered the story of his mother and her tragic upbringing in the Carolina mountains. It covers his childhood friendships and how the Vietnam war tore them all apart. It explains the art of dying well and what it is like to lose a parent. There is even an epic tale of being lost at sea. It covers love and loss, murder and marriage, justice and forgiveness.
Each and every page of this insanely long novel was lovely. His writing is beautiful and the characters are complex. In his stories, even the best intentioned people can do terrible things to each other and everyone’s actions have consequences more far reaching than anyone could have known.
As I said before, this is not an easy book. I don’t mean in technical terms. His writing is fluid and enjoyable, very engaging. I mean that it is hard in terms of content. There is a lot of violence and some tales from the Holocaust that can crush your soul. But those dark depths are balanced with stories of great food and family and water skiing in the sun.
Take this roller coaster ride. You’ll meet friends. You’ll choose enemies. And maybe by the time the story is over, all those people will have switched. But either way, these characters will stay with you.
I’m very glad I read this book.