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


Booklist Reviews 2013 October #2
Conroy has long used his family to great success. The Great Santini (1976) was the portrait of his marine-obsessed fighter-pilot father and Conroy's long-suffering mother and siblings, who had to endure the violence, numerous moves, and great uncertainty created by his father. Don Conroy was from a Catholic family from the South Side of Chicago. Pat's revered mother, a real southern beauty, played by Blythe Danner in the movie, was the author's literary inspiration. She, as well as strong teachers, taught him the power of literature. His previous book, My Reading Life (2010), expands on these influences. Conroy does some name-dropping as the movie of The Great Santini had its premiere in Beaufort, South Carolina, Conroy's home, and Hollywood's biggest names turned out. In spite of the pain and cruelty, there was forgiveness, and a mature friendship was realized between Conroy and his father before the latter's death. Conroy's eulogy concludes the book and is a fine summing-up of a compelling and readable portrait of a dysfunctional family. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Conroy's many fans will be alerted to his new book by an extensive ad campaign and will welcome it for its honesty, power, and humor. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2013 November
Surviving Santini: Conroy looks back

Long before Augusten Burroughs was running with scissors, a big-hearted Southern whirlwind of a writer named Pat Conroy served as America’s unofficial poster boy for family dysfunction.

The eldest of seven siblings raised under the violent iron fist of a cele­brated Marine Corps fighter pilot, Conroy sought refuge and revenge by channeling his nightmarish upbringing and its aftereffects into such gut-wrenching, cinema-ready novels as The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides. The success of his prose on page and screen didn’t prevent the real-life marriage meltdowns and numerous personal breakdowns that come with having the devil himself as your muse.

More than a decade in the writing, his new memoir The Death of Santini marks Conroy’s coming to terms with his “Chicago Irish” father, Don (nicknamed the Great Santini, after the trapeze artist, for his aerial prowess); his indefatigable Southern belle mother, Peg; his unsinkable grandmother, Stanny; sister Carol, the prickly family poet; and brother Tom, whose suicide plunge at 34 from a 14-story building came to manifest the malignant memories that haunt his siblings.

Conroy was inspired to undertake his memoir in 1998 after writing the eulogy for his father, which he uses to close this book, both literally and figuratively.

“I needed some kind of summing-up, a wrap-up for the direction that my career has taken me,” Conroy says. “I’ve been so family-obsessed that I wanted to try to figure out what it all means and come to some conclusions.”

Despite the book’s dark subject matter, readers may be surprised to find The Death of Santini uplifting, and at times downright funny, as the author casts off punch lines and personal demons with every page. Conroy approves but takes no credit for this reader-friendly chiaroscuro.

"I've been so family-obsessed that I wanted to try to figure out what it all means."

“When you say it goes from light to darkness, that sounds like it should be, but I’m never very good at that,” he admits. “I had good editing, good people reading the book from the very beginning and arranging it.”

One of those clever souls was Conroy’s wife, the novelist Cassandra King (Moonrise), who helped steel the author through his father’s final days. The couple married a week after Don Conroy’s death.

“My father adored her,” Conroy says. “Dad used to say, ‘What does Sandra see in you, son?’ And now, poor Cassandra has been marinated in the Conroy family madness.”

Fiction provided a means for Conroy to process the constant belittling, badgering and physical and mental abuse the family suffered at the hands of his larger-and-scarier-than-life father. But when the budding author dared to expose the family secrets in the guise of the Bull Meecham brood in his 1976 debut novel, The Great Santini, the family was horrified.

“One of the things my brothers and sisters have had to ask ourselves is, did this all happen? What was the result of it happening to us? How do we relate it to our children or our wives or husbands?” Conroy says. “We’re all screwed up, coming through Mom and Dad. That was a difficult country to travel in, but we traveled it, we made it through, and somehow we survived it.”

That fragile illusion would be destroyed years later when Tom, who’d had a minor role in the film version of The Great Santini, ended his life in Columbia, South Carolina.

“But Tom did not survive it,” Conroy continues, choking up. “Tom can bring us to our knees. We all feel we failed him, left him behind. We were not watchful or vigilant enough with Tom to help him survive.”

Conroy’s mother, who tirelessly encouraged him to pursue a writing career, was in her glory when the film premiered in her hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina, where it was filmed. She would later submit the novel into evidence in her divorce from Don.

As for Don, the best-selling novel and the film that followed sparked a love affair that knew no bounds.

“With my father, it wasn’t a flirtation with Hollywood, it was a marriage,” Conroy recalls. “When he finally realized that I had killed him in the movie, he was furious for a couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out why until he said, ‘You f__ked up the sequel!’ He did take that role utterly seriously. There were license plates of the Great Santini, hats of the Great Santini. Going to Dad’s apartment was like going to the county fair, only the county fair was based entirely on him and all the rides were Santini rides and all the clowns were Santini clowns. He could not get enough of it.”

The family uproar over The Great Santini and his subsequent novels continues to this day. When his siblings got wind that big brother had a memoir in the works, Conroy couldn’t help having a little fun at their expense.

“They always said, ‘You won’t be able to write this, Pat, because no one will believe it.’ My brothers and sisters are terrified of this book,” he says. “Of course, I was telling my brothers that I was giving them sex-change operations and my sisters that I was going to have them marry monsters and their children were going to be the devil’s spawn. But now that it’s coming out, I’m worried about their judgment.”

Having exorcised his demons, Conroy is working on a new novel and his first young adult book, neither of which involves family ghosts.

“I’m going to try to leave the family in peace,” he vows. “There are other things to write about. Of course, I’m ashamed that I didn’t think of this until I was 90 years old!” (Conroy is slightly inflating his age: He turns 68 just before his memoir’s October 29 publication.)

But his dark journey did lead him to a surprising conclusion about the family that fueled much of his career.

“Being born into this family was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “It just took me a long time to realize it and 40 years to write about it.”

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 October #2
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. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Express Reviews
Best-selling author Conroy, whose ten previous novels include The Great Santini (1976), The Prince of Tides (1987), and My Reading Life (2010), revisits the complicated relationship he had with his father, Don, in this intimate memoir that continues to explore the Conroy family history. Early fans of his work will recognize the repeated confrontations between father and son; Don was known as the Great Santini for his feats as a pilot in the U.S. Marines. The intention here is to offer readers the final chapter on Conroy's relationship with his parents and his own late-found peace, which came at a high cost. Verdict Conroy's work has influenced many younger writers and remains in top form. The author succeeds admirably with this memoir, which is sympathetic without being sentimental, offering stories with wry humor and heartfelt affection.--Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 December #2

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.)

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

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.)

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