12/17/2013 03:38 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2014

THE DEATH OF SANTINI Is a Journey Into Darkness

Book Review Jackie K Cooper

In 1976 Pat Conroy's novel THE GREAT SANTINI was published. It is a fictionalized depiction of his family's life with Don Conroy, a man who was abusive both physically and mentally. The book caused many problems within Conroy's family but it eventually led to a common ground of understanding which is the center of Pat Conroy's memoir THE DEATH OF SANTINI.

Pat Conroy was born in 1947 to Don and Peg Conroy. Don was from the North and an Air Force Fighter Pilot and Peg was a beautiful woman from the South. Their union produced seven children, all of whom were scarred by their father's rage and their mother's carelessness. Pat Conroy takes a writing scalpel to his brain and lets flow all of the stories of his life. It is a hard and dark voyage to the soul of a man who lived in chaos in his youth and fought against its impact as he matured.

It is one thing to read a novel about cruelty to children or even to see a film about it. It is another to read words about an actual family whose reality was abuse. In turning the pages of Conroy's book it sometimes becomes too much and you have to put it down and step away. There are horrors being shown there and it can bring up past experiences of your own life that have been tamped down.

Conroy doesn't focus as much on his father's cruelty in this book as he does with his evolution into humanity. A bridge was crossed in their relationship and this is the main portrait that is painted. Don Conroy was a mess as a father but he became a loving and attentive grandparent. His conversion awakened a realization in his children that perhaps he could be loved.

Still there are horrific moments the family had to endure. Peg suffered from leukemia and her pain was felt by each one of her children. Carole Ann, the oldest daughter, had severe emotional problems which added to her genius as a poet but caused stress with her parents and siblings. And then there was Tom, the unreachable one who took his life at an early age.

Pat Conroy writes about all of his life with an honesty that is at times overwhelming. You rejoice with each small joy he finds, and suffer with all of the trauma and tragedy he endures. He seems to have no filter on what he will expose and what he will not. This is what makes the book totally fascinating.

There is a beauty to the way Pat Conroy assembles words and phrases. He can transport a reader to great highs and great lows. Never has this been as obvious as with THE DEATH OF SANTINI. All readers are pulled into his world and this world impacts each who enters.

THE DEATH OF SANTINI is only for the brave. If you are a true Pat Conroy fan you will want to show your courage by joining him on this reflective journey into darkness.

THE DEATH OF SANTINI is published by Doubleday. It contains 352 pages and sells for $28.95.

Jackie K Cooper