Pat Conroy ‘Way Back Then

As readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of Pat Conroy. I consider him the finest living American writer and am insanely jealous of his ability to paint lifelike characters and scenes, and to keep a story moving at a torrid pace. I am on a mission to read three or four of his books which, for some strange reason, I have missed along the way. At the moment, I’m reading The Great Santini. A few days ago, I finished Conroy’s first book, The Boo. The latter experience was a bit of a shock because, until I went back and read the introduction, I thought I was reading a book written by someone else.

The Boo is the nickname of a man –Lt. Colonel Thomas Nugent Courvoisie, Assistant Commandant of Cadets — a major figure in the author’s life while he (Conroy) was a cadet at The Citadel. The book is a collection of stories of cadet life at the South Carolina military school. Since I failed to read the introduction before beginning to read the body of the book, I was struck by the fact that something was missing: Conroy’s usual gorgeous descriptions of people and places, the beauty and passion of his writing — those characteristics I’ve come to expect of this great writer.

Finally, about halfway through The Boo, I returned to the introduction, and then I understood. This was Pat Conroy’s first book, written when he was a young man only recently having graduated from The Citadel, one who wanted to be a poet. In his own words:  “…it would take me years to learn that prose required the same intensity and commitment (as poetry) of spirit. In 1969, prose was something I dashed off quickly; prose, all my prose, was a letter to the world telling what happened to me last summer. The Boo was my longest letter to the world; it was my angriest.”

Once I read the introduction, I enjoyed the book immensely. Not only did it provide me with a picture of the life of a cadet, written by a young man who had only recently departed from that fortress of discipline, but it demonstrated the growth of a writer from the amateurish first pages to the mature voice of a writer at the end. Any fan of Pat Conroy needs to read The Boo in order to appreciate his growth as a writer.

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