Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Lords of Discipline

Wow, what an abrupt change from vampires! I've now read three Pat Conroy books, and I especially loved the first two: Prince of Tides and Beach Music. The former is even in my top ten favorites. This one was rough. He is a fabulous author, but The Lords of Discipline was rough. Very difficult subject matter, and in my opinion, geared more for a male reader than me.

But as always, Conroy's words are simply poetic. And from the first page I am swept in:

"The city of Charleston, in the green feathery modesty of its palms, in the certitude of its style, in the economy and stringency of its lines, and the serenity of its mansions South of Broad Street, is a feast for the human eye. But to me, Charleston is a dark city, a melancholy city, whose severe covenants and secrets are as powerful and beguiling as its elegance, whose demons dance their alley dances and compose their malign hymns to the side of the moon I cannot see."

Poetry. Anyway, the story is based in South Carolina, as are all the books I've read by Conroy. This time it's a military school. The story follows Will McLean through his four years at Carolina Military Institute in the late 60s. Will, as a senior, is charged with keeping a special eye on a freshman who is the first black student to ever attend the school. In the process Will uncovers a secret group called The Ten who make it their mission to drive out weak freshmen. The treatment of the freshman by the upperclassmen was absolutely brutal. I want to believe that this kind of hazing doesn't exist at real military schools, but I guess I can't be sure. So while it was excruciating at times to read about the torture and inhumane treatment of these kids, the story is also about a wonderful friendship between Will and his three roommates. And Will's struggle to be a good man whether or not that means being proud to be an Institute Man. Plus, the ending alone had such a fabulous twist (which I never saw coming) that it made the whole reading struggle for me worth it.

I am definitely going to read more of Conroy's books. I think the next on my list is his new one, South of Broad. And then The Great Santini, which I'm told is based on the author's father.

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