I just finished Pat Conroy's Beach Music, and like all of his novels, it's sweeping and lush, with language that soars.
It's also about three different novels going in about three different directions, with set piece scenes that do not build from character, which is usually Conroy's great strength, and therefore ring hollow.
The book is set primarily in the fictional town of Waterford, South Carolina, masquerading as Beaufort, SC. Beaufort is a lovely town that has only just recently succumbed to prettifying its downtown* into an area indistinguishable from other manufactured downtowns with their yuppified shops and nicey-nice restaurants, instead of the delightful shabby chic the town has sported for the last dozen years or so. In fact, I was dismayed on a recent visit to discover that one of the best downtown, waterfront dive bars ever has been displaced by a bar you'd be safe taking Queen Elizabeth to.
I can understand why Conroy calls it Waterford--it's in essence his home county and I guess he felt the need to provide cover for it. On the other hand, he renames the nearby Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot Pollock Island for no discernible reason. At worst, it's annoying, and again rings false. Those from South Carolina know exactly where he's talking about anyway so he's not really hiding anything, and those who don't know should be given the information, if only for assisting them in physically orienting themselves to the geography Conroy describes.
The other annoyance is the lack of editing and copyediting throughout the book. They're two different things. Editing would have trimmed this 800-page behometh into less of a ramble through Conroy's id and more into an actual narrative. As for copyediting, a good one would have relieved the book of all the annoying little errors/writer tics that are inevitable in manuscripts. Left to its own devices, the major reveals have almost no emotional punch, and at least one is telegraphed so sloppily going in it creates a barrier between the reader and the characters.
I have to admit I skipped about twenty pages in two different parts of the book, I guess because I'd had a surfeit of flowery, repetitive language. I was still able to get the gist of things.
It's a good beach read, but with some discipline, it could have been a great book.
*For a glimpse of pre-yuppified downtown Beaufort, rent The Big Chill--the scene where Kevin Kline and Bill Hurt are jogging in the early morning is along Beaufort's main street. There are other great Beaufort scenes in the movie as well, including the drive from the Church to the burial at the beginning of the movie. It's a gorgeous town, and I dare anyone not to visit and fall instantly in love.
wag of the dog
9 hours ago