If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you already know I think Pat Conroy is one of the greatest American wordsmiths to ever put pen to paper. Conroy passed away last March, and while I’m sad he’s not here to give us any more words, I’m grateful he left so many behind. From time to time, I re-read one of his novels. Conroy clears my head — kind of a cerebral reset button.
I doubt anyone would ever accuse Pat Conroy of writing feel-good novels. Most of his books will dissect your soul in one way or another. But the way Conroy uses language and prose (even in the midst of the most uncomfortable of emotions) is beautiful and soothing.
Right now, I’m re-reading Conroy’s 1980 classic, The Lords of Discipline. It’s a fictionalized account of his own experiences at The Citadel (though in the novel the school is renamed, The Carolina Military Institute). It’s a coming of age story that puts the reader through a turbulent emotional wringer — abuse, loss of innocence, friendship, brotherhood, and betrayal.
The novel begins with these words:
I have a need to bear witness to what I saw there. I want to tell you how it was. I want precision. I want a murderous, stunning truthfulness. I want to find my own singular voice for the first time. I want you to understand why I hate the school with all my power and passion. Then I want you to forgive me for loving the school. Some of the boys of the Institute and the men who are her sons will hate me for the rest of their lives. But that will be all right. You see, I wear the ring.
It’s not all soul-gutting emotion, though. Conroy manages to weave some humor into his story, too:
It’s impossible to explain to a Yankee what ‘tacky’ is. They simply have no word for it up north, but my God, do they ever need one.
And then there’s Conroy’s superpower — description. In this passage, Conroy’s protagonist, Will McLean, is describing (with stunning eloquence) the waters of Charleston at sunset:
See what I mean?
I think the world might be a better place if the Crayola Box of 64 had a Chablis-spilled-across-a-light-stained-table crayon.