National Review / Digital
Generation Gaps
The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son, by Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese, 352 pp., $28.95)


A couple of times while writing this review I almost typed “Bill Clinton” instead of “Pat Conroy.” That’s not surprising. The former president and the bestselling novelist who wrote The Great Santini have a lot in common. Their names sound similar, they are the same age, they look alike, both are southerners, and both have gotten into situations that require a lot of explaining. For years Clinton was the unrivaled master of this exhausting art form but he has been toppled by Conroy, whose new book, a nonfiction sequel to The Great Santini, is such a prolix apologia for his nonstop search for private demons that he has become the Great Explainer.

Ironically, what brought him to this questionable point was a string of good luck. He was born at the perfect time to be a product of the Sixties, and everything he did and wrote hit a bull’s-eye on the zeitgeist. In the civil-rights arena he became the first white teacher of blacks on the remote South Carolina sea island of Daufuskie, a Gullah-Geechee time capsule, where the direct descendants of the state’s original slaves had lived in such isolation that they had kept their African language and customs. Conroy wrote a self-published book on his experience, which ruffled the segregationist establishment, won him the appellation “n****r lover,” and got him fired. He rewrote his book as The Water Is Wide, sold it to a real publisher, and was profiled in Life magazine. Then Hollywood came calling and produced the movie Conrack, starring Jon Voight. Conroy said all the right things (“the cruel-eyed South,” “the apartheid South”) and the zeitgeist welcomed him as one of its own.

December 31, 2013    |     Volume LXV, No. 24

  • How I fell in love with the United States.
  • The ancient evil and the politics of distraction.
  • A new “godless” church makes you wonder.
Books, Arts & Manners
  • David Pryce-Jones reviews The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, by Yuval Levin.
  • Richard Brookhiser reviews The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735–1817, by Myron Magnet.
  • Florence King reviews The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son, by Pat Conroy.
  • Sarah Ruden reviews David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell.
  • John Daniel Davidson reviews Jack London: An American Life, by Earle Labor.
  • Ross Douthat reviews Nebraska.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .