"A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life" By Pat Conroy

Nov 10, 2016

“A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life”

Author: Pat Conroy   

Publisher: Nan A. Talese/ Doubleday

Pages: 291

Price: $25.00 (Hardcover)

As his millions of fans know, Pat Conroy passed away early this spring. When any great writer dies, the same question is asked: Are there unpublished manuscripts still to come? In the case of Hemingway, there were reams of work, beginning with “A Moveable Feast” and “Islands in the Stream.”

Conroy had finished 200 or more pages of a novel, “The Storms of Aquarius,” about four Viet Nam era friends, but there is probably not enough to publish.

Luckily for us, however, Conroy was persuaded, beginning in about 2009, to write some blog posts. He felt, correctly, that “blog” was one of the ugliest words in the language he loved so much, but he did it anyway. Conroy referred to the posts as “letters,” really love letters to his readers.

A collection of these blog posts, a few scattered speeches by Conroy, a couple of magazine interviews, and some warm testimonials—especially an “Homage” by Rick Bragg which appeared in “Southern Living”—about him constitute this very readable, and rather moving collection, Conroy’s twelfth.

Conroy began most blog entries “Hey out there.”

Those of our generation have a very flimsy idea of who is out there, listening, so to speak. Posting on the internet seems to us like putting a message in a bottle.

He ended his blogs “Great love…” That is less ambiguous. Conroy was full of love; he was famously sentimental and generous as a person and as a writer.

In many entries Conroy shares his tastes in reading. Yes! to Dickens, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, Cather, George Eliot, Russo, DeLillo, Gide, Camus, de Beauvoir, Roth, Munro, Irving, most of Marquez, John Irving, Ron Rash, Anne Rivers Siddons, Fowles, Ian McEwan and many others. Christopher Hitchens gets an entry of his own.

He admits, ruefully, that he was not moved by Sartre, Martin Amis, McCarthy’s “The Road,” or Thomas Wolfe.

And Wallace’s” Infinite Jest” “left [him] feeling like a beast of burden as [he] slogged his way toward that infinite finish.”

One post in particular showcases Conroy’s tastes in literature and his readiness to embrace the new.

His friend and oral biographer Katherine Clark kept telling Pat he should read George R. R. Martin, author of “Game of Thrones.”

Conroy was reluctant, dismissive, again, as our generation tends to be, of “Magic, dire wolves, mammoths, giants, dwarves, and dragons.”

Basically, he’s saying no thanks. But Conroy caved to Clark, loved Martin’s work and, admitting he was in error, praises Martin’s “great and convincing dialogue” and “intoxicating” storytelling powers. Having read 4,300 pages of Martin—Conroy was a Gargantua in his reading appetites–he came to consider Martin’s work not only “grand entertainment” but also “literature standing on the high ground of our language.”

Martin’s prose delighted Conroy but he was astonished when the two met in Santa Fe and Martin declared he was INFLUENCED by Conroy, especially by “The Lords of Discipline” and “The Prince of Tides.”

Pat was always quick to admit he searched every book he read “for plunder and inspiration” but no writer had ever told him he, Conroy, was an influence on them.

They lie, of course. But Conroy writes, a little sadly, I think: “generosity is the rarest of qualities in American writers.”

Conroy used these posts to express his deep affection for his wife, Cassandra King, and her writing, his love of independent bookstores, his admiration for teachers of all kinds, and to reminisce about his years at The Citadel and, ironically, his new enthusiasm for physical fitness.

Many of these blog posts relate the fatigue of a man in his 60s and then 70, often on the road, signing books and pausing for a conversation with every fan. Conroy loved his readers and shared himself with them to exhaustion. His readers loved him back. We all miss him.

Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” A shorter form of this review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio.