Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, March 07, 2016

The passing of a true prince of literature,Pat Conroy

It's hard to hear about the loss of another fine contributor to the wider world of pop culture but no doubt it's much more difficult for those who knew and loved that person the best.

Last month, author Pat Conroy announced that he had pancreatic cancer and this past weekend, the disease took him from us. He was only seventy years old, which may seem like a good long life yet that time span feels way too brief.

Many of the novels that Conroy wrote were based upon his life, such as the one that made him a household name. The Great Santini told the tale of Bull Meecham, a lieutenant colonel in the Marines who had trouble keeping his military style out of his home life.

Conroy himself was one of many siblings of a similar father and the 1979 film adaptation,which starred Robert Duvall in the title role, highlighted that troubled father and son relationship so well that it earned both Duvall and supporting actor Michael O'Keefe Oscar nominations:

Another story related to the military connections in his family was The Lords of Discipline, chronicling the four year term of Cadet Will McLean in a prestigious military school. During his time there, he does what he can to prevent a mysterious group known as The Ten from forcing out students who they deem "unworthy" to wear the school ring.

Conroy said that he didn't base the book directly on his experiences as a student at The Citadel(from which he graduated) yet many of the military schools in South Carolina were less than thrilled with his portrait of the corruption within those institutions and didn't allow the filmmakers of the 1983 adaptation to use their facilities in any way.

While he may not have taken directly from life, clearly Conroy's fictional look at how these young men were trained and treated hit home rather strongly:

The book and film version that Pat Conroy's work became best known for was the 1986 novel The Prince of Tides, which became a movie in 1991 that was directed by Barbra Streisand, who also cast herself in the pivotal role of Susan Lowenstein.

The leading man of the story is Tom Wingo(played by Nick Nolte in the film), a man from South Carolina who travels to New York in order to aid his suicidal poet sister Savannah. Dr. Lowenstein,Savannah's therapist, insists on talking with Tom about the childhood traumas that have a steady grip on all of the Wingo family as a means of helping both him and his sister emotionally survive.

Many of the book readers found fault with the film, since it cut down a lot on the family backstory in order to focus more on the romance that develops between Tom and Dr. Lowenstein. I do agree with that as it's really the family issues that are the heart of the novel more than that love affair. However, the film did earn several Oscar nominations that year and Conroy did sound happy to have Streisand make the movie, so I guess it all worked out in the end:

Conroy also wrote several memoirs, including one about the passing of his father(The Death of Santini) and a few other novels(Beach Music, South of Bend). He had a deep interest in helping out others who grew up in military families cope with the emotional toll that life took on them as adults and contributed to the 2006 documentary Brats:Our Journey Home.

I've read several of Conroy's novels but sadly haven't read his renowned memoir The Water is Wide, which talks about his year of teaching disadvantaged students in the remote South Carolinian community of Daufuskie Island back in the early seventies.

 The book was made into two films(one was a big screen version starring Jon Voight called Conrack) and is considered a hallmark of his humanitarian spirit. Perhaps I might take that one up as a tribute to his innate talents both as a writer and a person. Granted, no one is perfect yet it does say something about the man that so many mourn his loss and still have nothing but good things to say about his time on earth:

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