My Exaggerated Life
REVIEW by Willard Manus
Katherine Clarks oral biography of Pat Conroy made me want to re-read all of his books-and wish that Id been lucky enough to have met the man.
LIFE is the product of Clarks extended interviews with Conroy in
2014, two years before the death of the best-selling author of such novels
as The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline
and The Prince of Tides. My job, Clark explains, was
to select and structure the text on the page, but whats on the page
is Conroy speaking. Here Conroy is the narrator of his life, not the scholar
of it. It was not my job to be the scholar of his life either; that enterprise
is for a different book. My role was simply to be an editor who enabled
Conroy to be Conroy.
humility and self-deprecation were matched by his ribald humor and larger-than-life
personality; his warmth, charm and fierce intelligence. All of these qualities,
and more, can be found in MY EXAGGERATED LIFE, a book in which Conroy
bares aspects of his soul for some 330 pages, always with a quip, a colorful
story, a cutting remark.
The Great Santini (Conroys nickname for his father) then sent him to The Citadel, an infamous South Carolina military academy. The Citadel also beat the shit out of me with its avid cruelty and amazing capacity for sadism, Conroy recalls. So I was ready for life...it was a great way to go out into the world...terrified of everything, suspicious of everything, doubting everything...knowing that life was going to beat the shit out of me. I was expecting it. I expected every bloom to fall.
How Conroy transmuted all that sadness and cruelty into literature is explored in depth in MY EXAGGERATED LIFE. The writing of The Great Santini-(his family story)split me open, spilled me out on the floor, and threw me into Dr. Marion ONeills office...She was straight with me. I had to have straight answers...Dont sit there like a shrink fruitcake and just stare at me. I got to know how Im doing, he said.
When he announced that he thought he might be crazy, ONeill replied, Yes, I think you are. But I can help you.
And help she did. Conroy managed to contain his madness and continue writing, with unrivaled power and courage. As he explains, My writing life would be worthless if I did not write about the things I wasnt supposed to. Telling the truth trumps every single thing. Politicians can talk for hours and not say one thing. This is also true of most people-theres this giant conspiracy of silence to protect your own nest, which is always under attack. So its the writers job to say something, to tell the truth. And I am a writer. Thats the only thing Ive ever been or ever could do well, and I try to tell the truth in my writing.
(The University of South Carolina Press, www.uscpress.com)