Pat Conroy‘s new book delves into his past, furthering the account of family struggle, expanding on the story of his father, the inspiration for his novel, The Great Santini. In the forward, he states, “I’ve been writing the story of my own life for over forty years. My own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction.” With both his parents now deceased, Conroy is able to view them with a bit more detachment, appreciating some redeeming qualities in his father, Marine Corps Colonel Don Conroy, and mother, Peg Conroy Egan.
Conroy was the featured guest at the Kentucky Author Forum on Oct. 30, 2013, concurrent with the release of his new memoir, The Death of Santini. He was interviewed by Maureen Corrigan, critic-in-residence and lecturer at Georgetown University, and book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air.
Some excerpts from the interview:
- On family bonds: “These families, they can be the most horrible incubators, crucibles on earth, yet I have noticed it is hard to keep love out of the equation. When my brothers and sisters met when my mom started dying we got together and said, “we’re going to make mom’s death as comfortable as we can, we’re going to be as involved as we can, and we’re going to make her feel as loved as we can. The same thing happened with dad. No matter how we were treated by them, we didn’t have to be like them.”
- On the power and universality of literature: “I go to where it changes my life. I’ve admired Anna Karenina my whole life. I’ve been in love with Isabel Archer in “Portrait of a Lady.” I have loved Middlemarch and [...] you know, take all of Middlemarch’s characters and make them black, make them Jewish, make them hermaphrodite, I don’t care [...] I adore them. And that is what literature is to me.
- On struggles with alcoholism: “I had to quit drinking to stay alive too, I had things like my liver screaming at me, my kidneys disliking me, so if I was going to live and see my grandchildren married, you know I had to go through all that. I quit drinking, it’s been very good for me I think. It has hurt my personality, it has damaged my writing irrevocably, and I don’t enjoy life half as much as I used to. And can you imagine the agony of coming to Kentucky and not drinking!?”