THE DEATH OF SANTINI: The Story of a Father and His Son, by Pat Conroy. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 338 pp., $28.95.
Any fan of Pat Conroy's work already knows a lot about his dad. The abusive, self-proclaimed "Great Santini" achieved added notoriety when he was portrayed by Robert Duvall in the movie bearing his nickname.
Even the most loyal reader may wonder what else Conroy could possibly have to say about the man, especially when they see his new memoir is a whopping 336 pages. Simply answered: a lot.
Conroy has the reflective ability that comes only with age. He has a deeper understanding of his father and the havoc he brought to his family.
"When I grew up, I found the word 'father' to be an obscenity. . . . He bewildered his children by failing to know a single one of us," he writes.
In "The Death of Santini," Conroy examines not only his father, but also his much-loved mother and his siblings, including the brother who killed himself by jumping off the tallest building in Columbia, S.C., and his sister, a poet (he hasn't spoken to her since their mother's death in 1984).
But against the backdrop of ugliness and pain, Conroy also describes a certain kind of love, even forgiveness. He said he didn't realize his father loved him until his younger brother killed himself.
"From that day forward, my long war against Dad came to an end. The Conroy children wiped the slate clean. I was coming up on my fiftieth birthday. It embarrassed me what a mess I'd made of my life, and casting stones at my own parents lacked the allure for me it once had in my fire-eating youth."
Conroy kindly offers his readers occasional relief with hysterical tidbits like when the kids tried to explain to their grandmother that one of the Conroy girls was lesbian.
"Carol's never been to Beirut," she replied.
"What do you mean by that," Conroy said. "Who cares if you've been to Beirut or not?"
"Only people who're from Lebanon can be real lesbians."