Thursday, June 7, 2007

Beach Music

Being from SC, I have read all of Pat Conroy's books. Well, except The Boo, of which I could never find a copy. My mother finally got me one, and I started to read it, but it was his first book, and it lacked the style that he eventually developed. I enjoyed all of his others, and I think each book is better than the previous one.

The best is Beach Music. I would even venture to say that it is my favorite novel of all time, but my time isn't up yet (hopefully not for a while), so I won't discount the possibility of finding something I like better. But that won't be easy, because this book surpasses anything I've read in modern literature. No, I'm not a book critic, but I know what I like, and this is it.

The book takes place in SC and Italy. The characters are realistically flawed and eccentric in that southern way that will resonate with anyone from the south and intrigue and amuse those who aren't. If you grew up around the Charleston area as I did, you will recognize some of these people. They are your neighbors, grandparents, parent's friends, uncles and aunts, and yes, even your crazy relative. You know the one, every southern family has one, who can be mildly eccentric to outright nuts, but we all go about our business as if he/she were perfectly normal. (If you're not sure what I mean, then it's you.) There are rich family histories woven in, and we learn all about the family of the jewish girl who had visions of the Madonna and committed suicide as a young mother. And about the family of that girl's boyfriend-then-husband, who flees to Italy after his wife's death to raise his daughter.

Most especially, we learn about the tidal pull of the Lowcountry, why those who were raised there can never quite leave it. Why the feel of salty air and the smell of pluff mud at low tide are ingrained in our very DNA. All of us who grew up there had that incident in pluff mud, where you sink in up to your knees and your father had to come pull you out, and the suction of the mud as you pulled free sucked the shoes right off your feet. That incident describes perfectly those of us who were raised in the Lowcountry and have left. Our shoes are still there, stuck in the mud.

Now I rarely read a book more than once (on purpose, anyway), but I've read this one twice (it's been 4 years since the last time), and just writing this has made me want to read it again. It's that good. I gave a copy to my niece when she was 16, and she called me crying when she finished. Not because the ending was sad, but because there was no more of it left to read.

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