Son of Santini

Posted on November 18, 2013

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Author Pat Conroy began his remarks Sunday night by calling his beloved mother, Peggy Conroy, a bald-faced “liar.”

Conroy told a crowd of about 2,000, who crowded into the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta for the MJCCA’s annual book festival, that his mother lied to him about being a belle from a prominent Atlanta family. “Actually, she was from one of the poorest white families in Alabama,” Conroy said without the playful twist he might have added.

He continued by reminding everyone how much he hated his late father, Col. Donald M. Conroy, the subject of his latest book, The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son. He also introduced the crowd, which moments before stood and applauded as he walked gingerly into the basketball gymnasium, to his six siblings, including Carol, the poet who made quite a spectacle at their father’s funeral with a wadded up ball of tissue; and a brother-in-law who Conroy describes as the “world’s biggest redneck.”

And so it went for about an hour, Conroy “in conversation” with Teresa Weaver, a columnist for a local magazine, eliciting polite, uneasy and sometimes authentic laughter from the crowd.

But the whole scene left me a little disappointed in the man whose prose has caused me over the years to reread whole pages of his books, underline rich passages and wonder what it must feel like to write with such mastery.   

But, of course, Conroy has made a career out of the misery his father brought on his family and the dysfunction it spawned. And he is on a book tour, after all. So maybe we shouldn’t expect any new material at this point. 

” I always wanted a normal family, but that’s not what I got,” Conroy says, his fingers doing a nervous dance along the arms of his chair.

“Does it feel like a burden, the life you’ve lived?” Weaver asks. 

“Nah, I’ve made too much money for it to feel like a burden,” Conroy says. His quick response gets another laugh, but makes me wonder: practiced line from the book tour or how he really feels? Or both?

 

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