It’s an odd thing, to read a book about writing by a writer you’ve never read. Oh, I’ve heard of Pat Conroy before — with The Great Santini and My Losing Season and The Prince of Tides — but I never picked up one of his books and read it. Not even once.
So why pick up A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life?
I suppose my interest in writers writing about writing has me poking around the stacks at the library and there it was, a cute cover and a wondering about the thinking process of this writer I’ve never read. Conroy is part of the Southern tribe of writers, and apparently, used his own personal life as inspiration for his novels about living in and living beyond the American South.
This collection of small essays, curated by his wife after Conroy’s death, is a curious tome of voice. Conroy’s engaging and funny observations of people, and himself, come through loud and clear, as does his obsession with the Citidel, tradition, and Southern Culture — all of which he seems to both cherish and ridicule in equal measure as he takes stock of the world around him.
In some ways, this is less about the art of writing and more about Conroy’s view of the world as a novelist, mostly told through the lens of the tapestry of people who were woven in and out of his life over time, and whose quirks and friendships and falling outs made their way into his fiction. As his wife explains, Conroy was a collector of stories — and he was apt to steal and adapt any story you told to him, and apparently, he was a master at getting you to talk.
I believe it. His writing is very personal and inviting, and you feel as if you sitting around the sitting room, sipping iced tea on a hot Southern day, as he tells the stories he writes about here. There are great moments of Humanity here — I am thinking of his friendship with a gay Southern man who died from complications of AIDS and how Conroy moved to San Francisco to take care of his friend, and to understand the disease better so that he could help others.
I’m still not sure that his writing style is my reading style — it all feels a bit too John Irving for me, and I find I am not in a John Irving mood these past few years, although I read Irving at one time — but I admire what Conroy does here. He’s working to peel back the layers of a writer, to show how life is the biggest point of inspiration, and how it takes courage and insight to bring fiction into a light that seems true and worth writing about.
And any insights into what makes a writer click .. that’s always worth a read.
Peace (writing it about),