The news of novelist Pat Conroy’s death from pancreatic cancer at age 70 this week filled me with a sense of loss. It’s hard to think that we won’t be having another one of his books—which, for all their occasional lapses into overheated prose, also exude real storytelling power and insight into dysfunctional families (much like his own, from which, he frankly acknowledged, he drew on for many of his characters in the likes of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini).
But, above all, his work evokes an extraordinary sense of place, as I noted in a prior post. In a Facebook post marking his 70th birthday, he noted: “It was in Beaufort in sight of a river's sinuous turn, and the movements of its dolphin-proud tides that I began to discover myself and where my life began at fifteen." I understood what he meant so well when I visited his South Carolina town, for a fleeting day, on vacation a year and a half ago.
Conroy came back here to live, in the same lowcountry community where his quarreling parents were buried. And now, his own restless journey has come to an end here—with the ugliness of the disease that killed him counterbalanced by “the beauty of indrawn tides” that moved him and, ultimately, thousands of readers worldwide.