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Pat Conroy: An Affair to Remember

by Penne J. Laubenthal

When I read my first Pat Conroy book, it was love at first paragraph. I have just finished reading the prologue to South of Broad and I fell in love all over again. Now I am not an easy reader to engage. i have strange and eclectic tastes. I crave style and wit. I hunger for poetry enveloped in prose--like a delicious bouef en croute. Plot interests me little or not at all. I regularly read the ending of a book or story first in order to decide whether or not it is worth my time. I always read The New Yorker from back to front.

I have never felt compelled to read more than a few pages in a book that does not immediately command my attention. This is not because I am a reader with refined and critical tastes, but merely because I am one with peculiar affinities.I have been known to cast a book aside after reading a single paragraph, never to pick it up again. Consequently, my house is littered with dozens of unread books, lying around abandoned like so many unclaimed corpses. And such profligacy does not in the least disturb me. I feel no compunction to finish any book, regardless of its position on the best seller list or its critical acclaim. So if I do read a book and I do finish it, it is an act of love.

Reading Pat Conroy reminds me of reading Thomas Wolfe. I must have read Look Homeward, Angel a dozen times. I don't just read a book, I read it again and again. Like grilled lamb chops or fried green tomatoes or rich chocolate mousse, I want what I want over and over and over. I cling to these books the way one clings to old friends and I turn to them when I want something that will not disappoint. Alice in Wonderland is a case in point-- and yes, I cannot wait for Tim Burton's fantastical film--as is Harry Potter, in case you think I am hopelessly stuck in the past.

But to get back to Pat Conroy. Pat is a writer with an enormous appetite for life. He writes like a gourmand, an epicure. Reading Pat Conroy is like having a ten course meal in the finest restaurant-- never mind that his books are chock full of suicide, depression, alcoholism, and thoroughly seasoned with despair. What is a meal without a little spice or something astringent to stimulate the palate. I am not squeamish about death nor am I moribund. Conroy writes in South of Broad that "death lives in each one of us and begins its countdown on our birthdays and makes its rough entrance at the last hour and the perfect time.' (Be sure to read the whole paragraph on page 10. It is marvelous)

However, Conroy's books, in spite of their preoccupation with the darker side of life, are a hymn to life itself, an affirmation. It should come as no surprise that South of Broad ends (and yes, I have already read the ending) just as James Joyce's Ulysses does, with that powerful and life-affirming word '"YES."

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