Plain and simple and complicated.
One of my favorite authors has died.
Pat Conroy wrote books that I read and re-read, devouring the lyrical language that was printed on the page like a moviegoer eating popcorn. I could not get enough.
I never lived in the South and never understood the mores and customs of confederate gentility, but Conroy took me front and center into the spoils of relationship wars and family squabbles with a wit and color that my nuanced, Cuban upbringing could easily understand. He didn’t write about pretty people. He wrote about quietly messy individuals whose struggles would surface surrounded by magnolia trees and southern charm.
He wrote about conflict and resolution and the scars of both.
He took on the taboo topics we all knew about but wouldn’t discuss. He lifted up the rug and forced us to sweep everything out from under it – painstakingly making us confront our own personal demons.
He wrote about truth and lies and perceptions.
But then he also entertained us with language so rich in its consistency, that a sentence would stick with us forever. He introduced us to characters like tortured poet Savannah Wingo and her brothers Luke and Tom; through him I met the frightening Lady Of The Coins, the tormented Shyla Fox and John Harding, the beautiful Ledare Ansley, the defiant mothers Lila Wingo and Lucy McCall and the greatest tyrant father of them all, the Great Santini. He told us about ‘Lowenstein, Lowenstein…’
He wrote about friends, family and everything in between, proving misfits of life could grow up to be healthy, whole, fractured human beings.
With him I learned about shrimping on the South Carolina coast, about going for the woman who was far beyond my reach, about loving my parents in all of their infinite and flawed humanity and that in families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.
He wrote about apologies and redemption and the trajectory between the two.
Reading one of his novels was never easy, most of the characters seeming eerily familiar from one book to the next, but I could never put it down. He revisited many of the same themes from one story to another, but the scenery and the narrative always changed even when it didn’t.
Conroy’s books made me cry, openly and without restraint, allowing me to exorcise the pains of a southern upbringing I never had and wished I did, by taking on the writer’s voice and his journey and comparing it to my own.
Maybe this is what he was looking for in his quest to put words to page.
Maybe this was his cathartic release.
Maybe this is what he wanted to accomplish with his readers.
Maybe this is why he wrote.
Now that he is gone, we will never know and that saddens me most of all.
But I look to the heavens and I send out a query to the universe in praise, in regret, in grief, with reverence and respect. In prayer, I play on the words I once read from him asking for just one more novel…