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4.3 out of 5 stars
Beach Music: A Novel
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197 of 209 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
To read a book by Pat Conroy is to come to the realization that so much of everything else I read, and think is good, is truly just an appetizer getting me ready for the main course -- which is what Conroy is. Every sentence you read lures you into the web of Conroy's storytelling. This is a book that will take you from the piazzas in Rome to the low country of South Carolina. You will fall so deeply in love with each setting that you couldn't possibly decide which place you would prefer to live.
Every character is a tortured soul who has a tale to tell -- one more heartbreaking than the other. The main story follows Jack McCall, who flees to Rome with his young daughter Leah after his beloved wife Shyla has committed suicide. He leaves behind a bevy of colorful family and friends in an effort to escape his torment and begin a new life in a new land. As a travel writer by trade, Jack is able to pick up and live wherever he chooses. It is a telegram from a family member that will finally bring Jack back to South Carolina to face his demons and learn the stories of all those he loves.
Conroy has the ability of dropping crumbs along the way leading you to each character's hidden story. He touches on times in history involving the Holocaust and the Vietnam War -- each decade so real that I don't even want to think about the horrors. But it is these horrors that have come to shape the characters whose cards have been dealt and whose hands must be played. They are all part of a finely interwoven story with South Carolina as the stage for the grand finale.
In reading the book, I can only wonder if the author can write the last twenty pages and not cry himself. I don't usually cry when reading a book but I must admit that this one did me in. Conroy so neatly ties up all the loose ends so that the reader feels no need for a sequel as they are confident that the lives of the characters they have come to love will go on.
While this is a book about tortured souls, it is also a book that holds great promise filled with love and hope and devotion and yes...redemption. We always talk about the books that will stay with us forever. This is one for me...music to my ears...Beach Music that is.
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82 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pat Conroy is my favorite author--I just wish he produced a new book every three months like John Grishom. There is absolutely nobody else who has the power of "description" and "Imagery" that he has.
I love Conroy's writing because it is always so contradictory. He makes you love and hate his characters at the same time. I started out by being completely annoyed with John Hardin in this novel, and then he ended up being my favorite character--he was so funny and outrageous. I felt the same about his mother--loved and hated her at the time time. I remember this was also true of his characters when I read "Prince of Tides." He has such an ability to play with the reader's emotions.
Beach Music was harder than his other novels because of so many subplots & characters, but instead of wishing it hadn't been so long and gone into so much, I found myself wishing it was longer, and he had developed the characters & subplots even more.
There is always a feeling of "letdown" when you finish one of Pat Conroy's novels because you don't want it to end. Nobody writes about "dysfunction" with his sense of humor.
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76 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm usually a reviewer who argues for strong editing, saying books are too long and in need of brutal slashing and burning.
But this book of Pat Conroy's doesn't fall in that category; I loved and cherished every word of it. It's rich, lush, full of atmospheric detail.
Pat Conroy at his best, and it makes me want to go to Italy and the South.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This has become one of my favorite books of all time. Conroy's imagery and use of detail to enhance his storyline is exemplary. He expresses ideas and emotions very well. My favorite quote from the book expressess this idea. "I could feel the tears within me, undiscovered and untouched in their inland sea. Those tears haad been with me always." His explanation why couldn't cry for his wife's death was touching. I have also read Prince of Tides by Conroy, and though the plot have many similarities, I like Beach Music better of the two because it touches on so many more people and their stories. It bothered me aa little at first that there were so many similarites in plot and in characters, but then I became more intrigued because I felt as if I was reading about Conroy's own life, that he had drawn from his personal experiences. Whether this is true or not I don't know. The characters are extremely well developed, each with their own destictive personality, which is amazing considering the number of characters involved. I really liked the plot of the book bacause he delt with so many issues and tied them together so well. He reaches out and pulls amazing stories from his characters, and does it without seeming fake.
I wouldn't say this book is for everyone. I wouldn't recommend Beach Musi to people who like extremely fast paced books and don't have the patience for character development. I also would not recommend it to people who would have a hard time dealing with the issues he brings up like suicide, rape, mental instability and the Holocaust. However, I think Conroy's book has great value.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pat Conroy is, more or less, the best modern American writer. Word truly seem to flow from his "pen"; his characters are captivating and well-developed; his descriptions, whether he's describing a person, place or thing, are unbelievable; and his plots are such dramas, filled with scenes that will make you laugh, make you shrink back in horror, and make you cry.
Beach Music is probably the best, and longest, of Conroy's books. The melodrama begins when Jack McCall, an Southerner who moved to Italy to raise his young daughter after his wife committed suicide, is called back to his home town--Waterford, SC--because his mother is dying. The book describes Jack and his four younger brothers (including wonderfully written scenes with his youngest, and craziest brother John Hardin--who happens to be my favorite character) as they struggle with their family's past, their mother's dying, and the pitiful-excuse-of-a-human-being that is their father.
Secondly, this book describes Jack's attempt to understand why his wife killed herself, and his attempt to reconcile with her family. This part of the book, Jack's in-laws' stories, are probably the hardest emotionally to read. Both of his in-laws were survivors of concentration camps, and their stories are truly heart-wrenching.
Thirdly, this book tells the tale of Jack reuniting with his best guy and girl friends from his teenage years. This part tells how Jack fell in love, how he met his best friend, and what happened to each of their lives. For whatever reason, this section of the book reminded me of the Big Chill (probably because of the reuniting of old friends), but I found this part very enjoyable.
Overall, this book is about a man having to look back--not necessarily reminisce, but to re-examine--on his past to try to solve problems he has with himself, his family, and with raising his daughter without including any family help. This book is very good, very powerful, and, personally, is a book I would take if I were stranded on a desert island.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed reading this book because it was both an intriguing story and because it gave me much insight into the culture of South Carolina.

South Carolinians are the only other people besides Texans who display such a huge level of pride and affection for their home state. Being a Texan, I was always curious to know what their version of state pride looked like. By telling the story of the lives of four boys and two girls, with whom I could see myself being friends if they had all grown up in Texas, Conroy vividly explains SC's particular version.

Conroy's theme is that life does not progress linearly but in a circular fashion. While overtly criticizing the archaism and backwardness of the South's obsession with family ties; Conroy covertly and subtlely gives credence to it, as each character's life story is heavily influenced by his past, his parents' past, and his grandparents' past. He uses flawed characters to show how actions today bear consequences tomorrow; thus, it is crucial that each man confront his own personal demons (lest they be allowed to fester and to hurt others, especially those he loves) and to seek reconciliation with those he has wronged in his past. The optimistic ending teaches us that it's never too late to make amends.

Conroy's story-telling ability is superb and I really enjoyed reading this book.
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63 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Save the trees!
This is obviously a novel that stirs passions, some positive, and some negative. One just has to go check out the comments, and see how few three-star scores this book has received, and how many fives and ones. I already know i am going to get lots of negative votes, not because my review is not helpful, but because lots of readers are going to disagree with me. As my Spanish grandpa used to say, "En el Libro de los Justos, Cada Cual Tiene su Gusto" ("In the Book of the Fair, Each One Has His Own Taste"). Well, here we go:
This book was a terrible waste of my time, for the following reasons:
1: There are way too many plots, connected to each other by feeble suspensions of disbelief. The end result looks like a 60's afghan, made with mismatched neon colors. I enjoy the straying away from the main road that many authors have mastered (John Irving comes to mind). At times, the most interesting, colorful, fascinating characters and situations are the secondary ones. In this case, none of that happens. Pat Conroy could have created at least 4 books from this one, rather than compressing all these story lines into an 800-page monstrosity.
2: The vast majority of the characters are, in my opinion, too melodramatic, way off line, and as a result, totally unbelievable. The most offensive of all is the schizophrenic brother. What a horrible disservice is Conroy doing to schizophrenics of this world and their families by portraying the disease the way he does. He ends up looking like an eccentric uncle. If Conroy had described other diseases in the book the same way he treats schizophrenia, the mother would have dealt with her cancer with Tylenol and plenty of napping.
3: More on characters: i have never read a book where everyone was so gorgeous. Maybe if the novel had taken place in Southern California....
4: Conroy's writing is incredibly uneven. There are times when his descriptions work, and he does a fine job explaining and elaborating on a story. Other times, his writing is a collection of regurgitated clichés. It looks like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde co-authoring a novel.
5: More on (un)willing suspensions of disbelief: killing yourself because parental grief is too much of a burden. The wife killed herself because she could not deal with HERSELF. She had problems no matter what had happened to her parents, no matter what her heritage was. Why make it look like she could not handle her parents' history? This was an artificial move on Conroy's part, which totally disgraces the novel (and happens too early on to forgive).
I understand that Pat Conroy has produced some other fine books, and certainly many people think Beach Music is terrific. I cannot recommend this book to anyone looking for a serious read. I hope my comments have been helpful, and i am sorry i cannot agree with Conroy's fans on this one.
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30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Conroy's habit of making characters with mental problems into tragic, yet charismatic and magical entities is beyond annoying. From what I know of the families of schizophrenics, caring for afflicted individuals goes a tad beyond the fond headshaking and smiling tolerance that Conroy's characters indulge in when dealing with John Hardin. Totally unrealistic. And speaking of unrealistic, why not make Jack's daughter a REAL 6-year-old (who occasionally whines, has tantrums and spills milk) rather than a beatific, Yoda-type character who is wiser than every adult surrounding her?
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Pat Conroy is one of my all-time favorites but frankly, I'm getting tired of hearing him whine about his family. The mother figures in his books are always beautiful, outrageous, egotistical, mean to her children but nevertheless, heroic. The father figures are always drunken, abusive louts or otherwise absent and ineffectual. There is always mental illness somewhere in the family that was caused by some horrendous tragedy. The main character is always the misunderstood victim of the weird people in his family. The children are always bright, beautiful, flawless and smarter than the adults.
I grew up in the Carolinas and I found all the business about the beach music to be downright maudlin. I spent many summers shagging to the same old songs but if Jack McCall had any self-respect, he'd grow up and get over it. The whole theme exalting beach music and shagging reminded me too much of the generation X'ers who define their lives by the lyrics of pop music, or a high-school football star who never got over his glory days. ICK!
Pat Conroy needs to be careful that he doesn't go down the same slippery slope as Stuart Woods. I look forward to his next book with great hopes that he does something DIFFERENT!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I am about half way thru this book. It cannot be read rapidly....I have to put it down periodically and catch my breath. Wonderful story and Pat Conroy is an excellent writer.

Highly recommended reading.
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