A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy (2016. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-53086-6). Another confession. Despite being a voracious reader of fiction, from Jane Hamilton to Ernest Hemingway, I’ve not read any of Pat Conroy’s beloved Southern novels. Oh, I’ve read Faulkner. And O’Connor. And Hurston. And Wolfe. But not Conroy. Sad to say, as much as I love Robert Duvall as an actor, I’ve never seen the film adaptation of The Great Santini, one of Conroy’s best known works. I have watched Prince of Tides and reveled in the fabulous performances of Nolte and Streisand. But until my friend Nancy handed me this book for Christmas, wrapped in silver wrapping paper (her husband Ron saves up potato chip bags every year, cleans them, turns them inside out, and uses them to wrap my presents: a running gag that I never grow tired of!), I hadn’t read any Conroy. Here’s my view on this memoir/collection.
I’ll try some of the author’s fiction, maybe start at the beginning with The Lords of Discipline and work my way down the author’s reading list. As for A Lowcountry Heart, my take on this stockpile of blog entries, speeches, essays, and interviews by and about Pat Conroy on life, writing, and his family is that someone, likely his editor (Nan Talese at Doubleday) or perhaps his widow (the author Cassandra King) or perhaps both, either couldn’t let go of Pat or simply saw an opportunity to keep his words flowing. Either way, the takeaway from reading this book cold, as someone who has never read Conroy before, is that while A Lowcountry Heart might be a great trip down memory lane for Conroy aficionados, for those of us who are not yet fans, the best that can be said is that it piques our interest in reading his work. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The subtitle, Reflections on a Writing Life, seems to me to be false advertising. This slender volume is much less a treatise on writing or publishing or marketing fiction in the present eBook age left behind by a master wordsmith, but rather a loose compendium of unrelated writings that, yes, at times, touch writerly topics but only remotely so and with reference, as the overarching theme of the book, to Conroy’s love for his university, The Citadel. Having no background as to that particular school, which is apparently the subject of Conroy’s controversial autobiographical novel, The Lords of Discipline, I grew tired of reading about the author’s connections to that private, military institution of higher learning. Including a commencement speech to the student body in this book as something a non-Conroy fan would be remotely interested in? Poor editing, so far as I’m concerned.
There is no question, on the positive side of things, that because of this book, I will now pick up a copy of one of Pat Conroy’s novels. The essays and letters and speeches contained in this attractively packaged collection (hardcover, with a built in bookmark!) were cogent enough and written with a style such that I will dive into the Conroy library and see what I think of his more popular work. And I might even fork over a few bucks for a copy of his memoir, The Water is Wide because if, after reading his fiction, I’m as impressed with his work, I’ll likely want to learn a thing or two about the writing life from this departed icon of American letters. Sadly, this was not a book that met my expectations when I carefully opened those re-purposed potato chip bags. But for a devoted Conroy fan saddened by the fact that his typewriter keys are now silent, perhaps it’s a worthwhile adjunct to his other work.
2 stars out of 5.