Posted by: Jeanie F | October 9, 2009

Beach Music by Pat Conroy

I know – this is an old book and has been out a long time, but I must confess – I didn’t read it when it first came out. I was a fan of Pat Conroy’s – loved The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides – so I can’t explain why I never got around to reading Beach Music. Now that South of Broad has been released, my book club reminisced over Beach Music, many claiming it was their favorite Pat Conroy. I was reminded I hadn’t read it, so I picked it up during my visit to the wonderful Bay Books in Coronado (more on that visit later).
Let me begin by saying that this is not what you would consider “weekend reading,” unless you have a very short work week.  At 806 pages, it is at least literally heavy reading. As it happened, I was on Day 1 of a five-day weekend, so I felt I was up to the challenge. I began reading with great anticipation.
The book begins by letting you know how miserably unhappy Jack McCall, the protagonist, is – and with good reason since his wife has commited suicide by jumping off a bridge. Jack is left with custody of his two-year old daughter, Leah, although the parents of his late wife attempt to struggle custody away from him. Fortunately Shyla (she of the suicide) has left a letter testifying to what a great father Jack is, thereby convincing the Court that Jack should retain full custody. Jack and Leah depart to Italy in order to put the horrors of South Carolina behind them forever.
I happen to have a personal rule that if a book doesn’t grab me within 100 pages, it’s time to move on. I diligently stuck to my 100 pages, and here’s what I learned:
  • South Carolina is a cesspool where no sane human being would want to visit, let alone live.
  • If you escape SC for Italy, you will eventually be tracked down by multiple people from your past, who will not leave you in peace.
  • Leah McCall is a lovely, lovely (and precocious) child, the likes of which have never previously graced Italy NOR South Carolina.
  • Jack McCall, although appearing to have it all (intelligent, well-educated, fluent in at least two languages, once married to the love of his life, raising his beautiful and loving daughter in one of the most beautiful places on earth, where he is able to work as a free lance writer apparently making a pretty decent living) is a deeply, deeply unhappy man, seriously haunted by untold trials and tribulations of his terrible family history.

Yes, it took Conroy over 100 pages to repeat the above – over, and over, and over again. I don’t personally object to a writer setting the stage for the coming action. I’m perfectly happy to be given hints of what is to come. However, the repetition in the first hundred pages of the four slim points outlined above became redundant in the extreme. When Jack was finally dragged more than reluctantly back to South Carolina to his mother’s deathbed, we (the readers) were greeted with about 25 pages of droll sarcasm as his brothers “welcomed” him home. I knew it was time to put this book down.

I apologize to those of you who loved this book. Maybe if I had read to page 150 I would have seen what others have seen in it. However, I have to stand firm on one of my few rock-solid beliefs – life is too short to read bad books. 

I think I’ll pass on South of Broad!

Grade: Incomplete


  1. Awesome blog!

    I thought about starting my own blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess Ill just have to keep checking yours out.

  2. Beach Music is in my top 5 favorite books! Yes, the beginning is repetitive, and the entire book is painful. You must read beyond page 150; in fact, you must read the entire book. Wait until you are relaxed and have some time. It’s dark, compelling, complex, and should stick w/ you long after you’ve read to the end.

  3. You and Connie are both people whose opinions I respect, so I am willing to admit I may have judged precipitously. Thanks for the input!

  4. What is it about Pat Conroy that just makes me want to pour a whiskey and water and sit on the porch somewhere? I love his books. If you get a chance to read “The Water is Wide”, do it.

  5. You were right to stop. I kept going because I find Conroy can be lyrical at times. However, HE’S NOT Tolstoy etc, and could not succeed at an 800 page book about the South, Jews, the Holocaust, alcoholic fathers, the Sixties, Vietnam, parenthood, and military families. He’s also exceedingly sentimental as well as melodramatic which starts to make even hope unsatisfying. (But I would still like to visit South Carolina someday, due to his writing….)

  6. I went to SC, largely because of his writing. I’ve enjoyed most of his books, but this one didn’t do it for me. You’re absolutely right – he tried to cover too much, too superficially. Thanks for the comment

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