Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Little Southern Family Angst

What do you like to read for escape?  Murder and mayhem?  International intrigue?  Romance and travel?  All good choices.  My long-time favorite is family drama - and especially southern family drama of the Pat Conroy model.  I'm sure some literary purist will tell me William Faulkner did it first and best, but y'all, there ain't nothing like that lo'country boy Pat Conroy.

Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Water is Wide, the Great Santini, and the Lords of Discipline...journeys through the psyche of twisted priorities, racial divides, and love/hate relationships all within the backdrop of the beautiful south carolina shores.  Conroy's special talent is to create maternal characters so flawed and over the top cruel, and yet so broken, sad, and so loved by the children they target with their poison darts.  The novels are about survival, both physical and psychological, in the aftermath of  devastating emotional warfare.  But what I love beyond even the gripping character development, is the beauty of the language he uses - as rich and varied as the flora and fauna of the Carolina coast. 

Quite simply, I find his books to be chapter after chapter of pure poetry.

So right now, I'm reading South of Broad, Conroy's latest novel.  And I'm glorying in passages relaying the beauty and particular pace of Charleston, South Carolina...

"I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like the hinged shell of some soft-tissued mollusk.  My soul is peninsula-shaped and sun-hardened and river-swollen.  The high tides of the city flood my consciousness each day, subject to the whims and harmonies of full moons rising out of the Atlantic...."

...or the author's favorite twisted fatalistic tone....

"But fate comes at you cat-footed, unavoidable, and bloodthirsty.  The moment you are born your death is foretold by your newly minted cells as your mother holds you up, then hands you to your father, who gently tickles the stomach where the cancer will one day form, studies the eyes where melanoma's dark signature is already written along the optic nerve, touches the back where the liver will one day house the cirrhosis, feels the bloodstream that will sweeten itself into diabetes, admires the shape of the head where the brain will fall to the ax-handle of stroke, or listens to your heart, which, exhausted by the fearful ways and humiliations and indecencies of life, will explode in your chest like a light going out in the world.  Death lives in each one of us and begins its countdown on our birthdays and makes its rough entrance at the last hour and the perfect time."

...or his particular love of strong, beautiful, and broken females...

"It opened and I got my first rapturous glance at Sheba Poe, who became the most beautiful woman in Charleston the moment she crossed the county line.  Everyone I met, male or female, remembers the exact place where they first caught sight of this spellbinding, improbable blond beauty.   It was not that we lacked experience in the presence of beautiful women; Charleston was famous for the comeliness of its well-bred and papered women.  But as Sheba stood tall in her doorway, her presence suggested a carnality that took me to the borderline of cardinal sin just because of what I thought as I gaped at her.  To me, it felt like no appreciation of mere loveliness, but some corruption of covetousness or gluttony. Her green eyes drank me in, and I noted flecks of gold."

My oh my....I feel the need for a southern belle's embroidered fan to cool myself just reading these pages full of passionate prose.  If only I could write like that.....until then, I'll just read, and re-read, underlining favorite passages, and gasping with admiration at the play of vocabulary that not only tells a tale, but paints a picture rich and radiant and three-dimensional.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Have you read any Anne Rivers Siddons? She does great Southern family stories, too.

Susan said...

Absolutely love his writing and Prince of Tides is one of my all time favorite books. Not just for the strength of his stories, but the poetry of his writing.