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The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy

A remarkable ode to the real-life inspiration behind one of the most hated fathers of American literature and film.

deathsantini

With The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy returns to the autobiographical roots of one of his first successes, the 1976 novel The Great Santini. In this memoir, he recalls his father, a larger-than-life Marine hero who was an abusive monster to his family, from the perspective of decades passed. This is, he promises, the last story he’ll tell of his father–and of his mother, the beautiful false Southern belle.

Conroy’s style and ability to portray time and place are as mesmerizing and evocative as ever; the painful, neurotic (or, as he frequently says, “f-ed up”) family dynamics among the seven Conroy children and their mythically proportioned parents are peppered with humor. After his brother Tom’s suicide, for example, the family is at first shocked to realize that the funeral cards list the information for another brother, Tim, but then they razz him mercilessly. Another sibling notices the animosity their sister has for Conroy and reflects how hard it must be to hated so much. “No, I hate all you guys that much,” Tim says, to which brother Jim replies, “Shut up, Tim. You’re dead.”

As Conroy takes us through his convoluted relationship with a man he hated and feared, but eventually loved and felt close to (more or less), his gift for storytelling makes his story perfectly understandable and sympathetic. Don Conroy never ceased denying that he was falsely accused, but he softened over time and, it seems, in his dying years finally learned how to be a father.


This review originally ran in the November 5, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 poems.

One Response

  1. […] writing, as a book reviewer. “Lifeline” by Patricia Feeney recalls Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini, for its elegiac look at a rather unloveable family member. In ten pages, it manages a great deal […]

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