What a glorious story. There are some books that I finish that leave me with a strong compulsion to pick up a pen and begin my own story. The power of our human-ness, retold with compassion and insight, gives some anchor to life that awes me and inspires, at times, an aching jealousy. This book did just that.
I always wanted to be a writer. That's been a longing of my heart since I was young - probably since I first began to read. I love to have my imagination captured by the arc of a great story. When I read something that moves me powerfully, I inevitably am captured by this thought: I want to do that!
The Prince of Tides was a powerful book. I believe I read Beach Music and The Great Santini, but I don't recall their impact. South of Broad is a rich and robust book, with a cast of characters almost impossible to capture. It's like The Big Chill for Southerners, a story in which the city of Charleston, with it's distinctive personality, plays as major a role as any human.
It inspired me. As I walked up from the beach, where I'd read almost to the end, saving the final pages of the book for a quiet moment back at the house, I contemplated the wide range of personalities and interactions in the characters. Fictional life, described with such vivid detail and emotion, takes on a hue of reality that I don't appreciate in real life.
But thought occured to me, as I walked, that if I took the time to savor and appreciate the web of relationships connected to my day-to-day life, I'd be fascinated and inspired by the same sort of life that I absorbed in Conroy's book. Just looking at my extended family, I see a wide range of fundamentalists and agnostics, minor criminals and mental illnesses, short tempers and long fuses, utter kindness and sloppy, angry drunks, glimpses of greatness and falls from grace, redemption, loss and love, potential and hope mixed with wasted years and botched marriages, abuse and scorn and denial and recovery. This is life - real life.
Perhaps the truth of the power of such inspiration is in the provocation to look around and reocognize the depth and breadth of energy pulsating within our own families and friends. Someone like Pat Conroy has a unique talent and skill that enables him to craft a story of that weaves fictional characters together in a rich, compelling tale.
As those characters fade from memory, someone like me gets to reflect on the way that a shred of insight can tie together the same sort of human mess into a story that weaves together something that is real. Something that becomes a part of who I am and who I hope to be.
This was an extraordinarily good book.