Monday, January 08, 2007

What a trip

The prose fly across the page. They rush out at you, like the undertow of the tide, leaving you disoriented, breathless, unsure of yourself.

It's talent. No doubt about it. It's a talent born out of the usual suspects for a writer -- pain, misery, a difficult childhood, the blessed bane of being born on the lower half of the Mason-Dixon.

Reading Pat Conroy is in many ways like coming home.

"He's not as good the second time around, but different," a friend says.

So I go to the shelf one night when I can't sleep. I still can't bring myself to revisit "The Lords of Discipline." Just can't do it.

Instead I go for "The Prince of Tides." Two pages in, I'm hooked.

The novel is wordy. Almost 300 pages in, I'm ready for a payoff. Instead, I have 330 pages to go. So I relax, tell myself the fun of this is in the journey, and fasten my seatbelt.

Conroy is very good at conjuring a time and a place. I can smell the South Carolina of his youth, right up to the shrimp and the odor of the river that runs near his home.

I am drawn to the narrator, a high school English teacher and football coach who is going through one hell of a midlife crisis. The story of his life unfolds as he helps a New York psychiatrist treat his mentally ill sister. That, too, piques my interest.

A good book is the best vacation. It's a grand journey, in which the sights and the smells and the experience is one to savor. You think back on it later, in the quiet times of your life, when the world doesn't make sense and you're looking for an escape. Even better is the trip's price.

At best, Conroy is our most talented modern novelist; at worst, he's a heck of a storyteller. Whatever the case, I enjoy hearing his voice, long for the hour or two I spend with him at night.

I don't want this trip to end. But I know it must. So onward I go, back and forth between New York and South Carolina, hypnotized and horrified by this author's world.

Yes, it's talent, alright. It might even be genius.

Whatever it is, I wish I had some of it.


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