from my bookshelf: beach music by pat conroy


jack mccall moves from the low country in south carolina to rome, italy with his young daughter after his wife commits suicide by flinging herself from the south carolina bridge. in the midst of jack’s attempt to pick up the pieces and raise his child alone, he receives a message from home: his family need him back. jack’s mom is dying. jack can no longer avoid where he came from; he is forced to confront his family and friends, and allow his daughter to reconnect with her roots and build the identity she craves: as a member of the mccall family. jack’s new life in rome slips through his fingers, but he is given the chance to reinvent his old life into one he can tolerate, and maybe even a life he can learn to love. beach music attacks difficult subjects: the loss of a parent, the loss of a wife, the impact of war on people who experience it, and mental illness (jack’s younger brother, john hardin, suffers from schizophrenia).


“The Piazza Farnese was the central fact of Leah’s life. She was blissfully unaware that I was on the run from a past that had put too many hunters in the field against me. She did not remember the flight out of South Carolina to New York or the night flight on Alitalia that brought us to Rome.”

“I smelled the books and in so smelling realized that I was breathing the smell of myself, the familiar incense of the past coming to me in an envelope of armoas: woodsmoke, law books, floor wax, sea air and a thousand other lesser scents that went into the making of this strange wine of air and memory.”

“Each night, I would make a campfire on the beach from piles of twisted driftwood as the other boys cleaned the catch of the day. The wood fire smelled of sargassum and salt air, attar of the Gulf Stream, and its perfume would lightly touch the trout and bass fillets as I sautéed them in butter.”

“Early that night we walked on the beach again and felt the sea underfoot as we waded through the reflections of the evening star endlessly repeating itself in the pools created by the withdrawing tide.”

“She kissed me again and her lips and mouth felt sweet against mine and I was happy to be in that place of fear and owls.”

“Where other men took comfort in the arms of their women, I brought visions of the pythoness, all the swiftness and airless panic of constriction.”

“We let the current take us down the swift, rain-swollen Edisto. Oaks on the two shores leaned out over the water, touched branches, and exchanged birds and serpents, passing them almost hand to hand from one to the other. Water snakes eyed our two boats as we passed beneath the low-hanging trees. Dallas counted seven snakes wrapped around branches of one water oak we passed under.”

“After a few moments, I felt the loggerhead stir once, then I felt the ignition as the turtle moved all four flippers and the life force of instinct burned through every cell in its body.”

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