Beach Music

by Pat Conroy

Hardcover, 1995

Call number





Doubleday (1995), Edition: 1st, 628 pages


Jack McCall, a writer who moved to Rome to flee his family, returns to South Carolina where his mother is dying and makes peace with them, including Jewish in-laws he couldn't stand and who blamed him for his wife's suicide.

User reviews

LibraryThing member MSFJones
I have read this book at least a dozen times, and it remains one of my very favorites. I can't recommend it enough.

The story centers around Jack McCall, who leaves his home in South Carolina and moves to Italy with his daughter, Leah, after losing his wife. The story follows Jack and Leah as they make a new life in Italy, eventually return to South Carolina, and cope with the loss of their beloved wife and mother. There are interesting subplots throughout, along with beautifully written characters, some of whom are larger than life and just as compelling as Jack. We meet Jack's family, his deceased wife's parents - who Jack has a difficult relationship with - and friends with troubled pasts who reappear in Jack's life unexpectedly. It's long, at 800 pages, but the story is so engrossing that the length shouldn't put you off. It flew by for me and I found myself wishing there were more to read.

The book, in my view, is somewhat of a love letter to South Carolina, and the South in general, as are many of Pat Conroy's books. He knows his characters and his settings intimately and treats them with love and respect. For this reason, and many others, Pat Conroy has long been one of my favorite authors.
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LibraryThing member ugagirl
I love how this book weaves in and out of the South and Italy. I recommend listening to the book on tape of it. It is long, but the reader was excellent. Not sure of his name, but he sounded a lot like Kevin Spacey.
LibraryThing member GarySeverance
Pat Conroy's novel is a wide ranging depiction of life in Charleston, South Carolina and to a lesser extent Rome, Italy. It is a multi-generational and multi-family story with interesting, fully developed main characters. As with his prior novels and a later one, South of Broad, Conroy focuses on the psychology of the narrator and his closest friends.

Jack McCall is a person who has always been at the border of activity of his circle of friends. It is as if he just missed the center of the action but still was affected intensely by relationships with the boys and girls and later men and women of Charleston. With Jack, it is a matter of communication. He is very insightful privately but inhibited in outward expression. This makes him an excellent observer and mostly reliable witness to social events and character motives.

Two major historical themes are explored: antiwar activities of college students in the U.S. in the 1960s as the Vietnam war dragged on, and the history of Jewish life before, during, and after World War II. The two themes determine to a large extent the psychological development of the characters and the courses of their interactions. The focus is on four male characters (including Jack) with different levels of commitment to past and present South Carolina coastal life.

As in previous and subsequent work, Conroy writes in a lyrical poetic style capturing the enduring landscape of Charleston and Rome as backgrounds for his story. Each descriptive sentence, it seems, is a sensual portrait of environments the author clearly adores.

If you have read South of Broad, you may notice parallels with Beach Music in theme, story, and characters even though the novels are distinct. I read the more recent novel first and would suggest reading them in chronological order. South of Broad has more dramatic action and is not dominated by the legacy of the Vietnam war and history of Jewish survival preceding, during, and after WWII. The center of identification though in both novels is Charleston, SC and the unique culture of the residents.

I recommend Beach Music with the reservation that the characters are somewhat inaccessible to readers living outside of coastal South Carolina. The low country is a partially closed community of people with a shared past and culture. The characters are interesting and I cared about them, but did not completely identify with their motives. Because of that lack on my part, the actions and relationships of the characters did not quite ring true. This observation was not my experience with South of Broad. Even though I have lived part time in the low country for five years, I am an outsider and probably always will be.
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LibraryThing member mattrutherford
Tedious. I couldn't finish it.
LibraryThing member brendajanefrank
Conroy's writing is so effective that I started feeling suicidal. Much of this story is tragic. I had to take a break when only 1/3 finished because it was beginning to impair my well-being. I hope to get back to it after finishing some Evanovich fluff to lift my spirits.
LibraryThing member MrsHillReads
I had a stack of books to read and put this off until last because I didn't think I would like it; instead, it was my favorite! Very interesting family relationships.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
As usual, Pat Conroy displays a rabidly dysfunctional family, based in Waterford, South Carolina. Jack McCall born to a drunken father and a weird mother, who had a horrid childhood, has four brothers,one of whom is crazy at times. Conroy weaves a tale about these people and those who come in touch with them, which manages to say much about the Vietnam divisions in the US, and the Holocaust horror--based on fact or imagination? The book is 800 pages and frankly I think is too long, and a lot of the hagiographical stuff about Leah, Jack's daughter, could have been spared the reader. There are episodes whch are of high interest, but there is an excess of foul language at times and it is hard to believe the events as described could have happened. I know they did not but even in fiction one should be able to believe the events could have happened.… (more)
LibraryThing member frankwalker
Wonderful story about a father and daughter plus assorted relatives set in the deep south.
LibraryThing member idiotgirl
Audiobook. Ambitious novel. I had recently read My Revolution. This is also about coming to grips with 60s and Vietnam as one approaches getting older. This one also throws in the Red Brigade and the Holocaust. Nothing if not nervy. This books is definitely more interested in the male characters. The females are male fantasies. But this was an interesting read. Finished on a road trip.… (more)
LibraryThing member readingrat
For the first third of this book it felt like it could be a (rather lame) sequel to Prince of Tides - different characters, same themes. Eventually though the author began to allow the story to take its own shape and that's when it really started to shine.
LibraryThing member wispywillow
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Frank Muller, and the combination of his skillful reading and the poetic prose of Pat Conroy made listening to this book an emotional experience. I lost count of how many times this book made me laugh, cry, and reflect on my own life.

The story is beautiful and poignant and heart-breaking as it weaves between Rome, Italy and Waterford, South Carolina. There are several stories within the story, each one emotional and some even terrifying to comprehend.… (more)
LibraryThing member m_loveman
Beach Music is one of my top ten favorite books of all time. I love Pat Conroy's descriptions and how all of the story lines work together.
LibraryThing member debavp
There's a scene from my most favorite movie, The Big Chill, where William Hurt says...'no one had a more cushier birth than we...'. I found myself relating that scene repeatedly throughout this book.

While I was born a generation and a half after the characters, I can certainly remember and even relate to some events that transpire. As a born Southerner I can relate both to the author's style of writing as well as the environment he is trying to depict, at times successful and at times not quite so. I have read comments about Conroy's writing being not believable, that 'people don't talk like that'. A fraction of that may be true. Most New Yorkers don't talk like Jack McCall, neither do most South Carolinians. However, the really great Southern storytellers do. Sure at times I wish he'd have dropped every third adjective for the sake of speeding things along, but then I remembered that this was his story to tell.

Beach Music is not a beach read. It is a comprehensive look at a generation that had to deal with so many conflicts of their own present, their parents' past, and their childrens' futures. As I have witnessed in my own extended family, for characters in this story there was a bond between friends that was unlike any generation before or since. I've always been a bit envious of them for that. This is a story about imperfect people and imperfect families, the consequences of revealing too little and revealing too much, of love lost and love found, and of great friendships that never end.
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LibraryThing member fishhook7
Not my favorite of his but very interesting from an auto-biographical sort of place.
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I kept thinking I had already read this - and I had. Mr. Conroy has a way of infusing sadness into his books. Overall not a favorite author.
LibraryThing member goldzz13
I read this book so long ago, but I do remember loving it and wanting more.
LibraryThing member Jen42
Wonderful, sad, intricate story regarding a group of friends and their lives in the south in the 60s and beyond. This is another book that ranks on my list of favorite books of all time, and it is far and away my favorite of all of Pat Conroy's books.
LibraryThing member plm1250
My least favorite of Conroy's book. Again the fractured extended southern family the strong, love-hate mother-sons relationship as the eldest son returns from self exile in Rome where he is raising his young daughter alone as his mother, a childhood friends commited suicide before his departure from his deep Southtown, leaving him estranged from his family(4 brothers) he returns to be at the bedside of his terminal ill mother. Once again the plot focuses on family rerelationship, dysfunctionalilty as the family relives their troubled youth, what drove his wife to suicide and the secret behind his close friend, the son of an Army general, joining the priesthood to escape/atone for a violent crime he committed at that same growing up time at the height of the Viet Nam war… (more)
LibraryThing member Nancylouu
Loved this book - hope to find the time to reread it some day.
LibraryThing member tls1215
This was my least favorite of Pat Conroys's books. Although I will say that one of my favorite descriptions in any book I've read is on page 48; talking about his relationship with his mother. Other than that, not really worth the read
LibraryThing member VashonJim
I just can't get enough of Pat Conroy. This tale plays out over two continents, and as is always the case with Conroy, features a cast of Southern characters that are truly unique. What a story.
LibraryThing member SamSattler
That Pat Conroy is not the most prolific writer in the world is an understatement. Longtime Conroy fans have grown accustomed to the several-year wait between his novels, and for them the publication of a new Pat Conroy novel is a big deal. I am one of those longtime Conroy fans myself but, for some unexplainable reason, I left Beach Music on the shelf for close to sixteen years before finally reading it this month. Perhaps it was just comforting to know that I had a “new” Pat Conroy novel waiting for me anytime I was ready for it. That is the closest I can come to explaining my decade-and-a-half wait.

Beach Music was worth that long wait.

Even casual fans of Conroy’s writing would recognize this 1995 book as a Pat Conroy novel. It focuses on another large, dysfunctional Southern family filled with over-the-top siblings and eccentric parents; the narrator’s high school friends are a uniquely memorable bunch (this time one of them is running for governor of South Carolina, one is a successful Hollywood producer, another is a writer, and one is a Catholic monk); and the book is as much about coastal South Carolina as it is about the people that live there.

Jack McCall and his friends came of age as university students when they and other South Carolina students could no longer ignore what was happening in Viet Nam - but the war that made them grow up nearly destroyed them in the process. Some relationships were ruined forever and others were salvaged only after the smoke finally cleared. Now those relationships seem to be coming full-circle as Jack McCall and his old friends are forced to relive the terrible days of protest, betrayal, and death they experienced two decades earlier.

After his wife jumped to her death from a Charleston bridge, Jack, a writer of cookbooks and travel guides, took his toddler daughter Leah to Rome in hopes of starting a new life for them there. During the several years they have been in Rome, Jack has cut off all contact with those he left behind in South Carolina, and Leah’s Southern heritage is acknowledged only through the tales and legends Jack uses as bedtime stories. But now Jack receives the only news that could force him to go home: his mother is dying of cancer and she wants to see him.

Ready or not, Jack is suddenly thrust back into the arms of his family and friends, many of whom are the very people that helped drive him away a decade earlier. He is almost overwhelmed by his larger-than-life brothers (one of whom is a mental patient), his alcoholic, former judge of a father, and his dying mother – and, he has to face his wife’s parents, whom he has not seen since they tried to take Leah away from him following their daughter’s suicide. If that were not enough, politician Capers Middleton and Hollywood producer Mike Hess, two of Jack’s closest childhood friends, are forcing him to relive the Viet Nam era events that emotionally crippled everyone in their small circle.

Beach Music is pure Pat Conroy. It is another passionate, larger than life, love story filled with memorable characters and side-stories that immerse the reader in a part of the country that Conroy so deeply loves. Pat Conroy is a Southern writer and he is proud of it. His is the generation most impacted, and most scarred, by the Viet Nam War and, in Beach Music, Conroy brings to vivid life the era that so terribly changed this country forever.

Rated at: 5.0
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LibraryThing member MAGJohnson
This is my favorite of Pat Conroy. I have read it more than once and have favorite sections like the release of the newly hatched turtles and the boys in the boat who get lost at sea. This book also reviews the holocaust and brings its influence into modern day.
LibraryThing member delphimo
I finally found an enjoyable book, after reading many poorly written books. I have read Conroy before, but feel that this is one of his better novels. Conroy employs many of the same themes in all his novels: the South, the beach, loggerhead turtles, the military, religion, sex, the Viet Nam War, and domestic violence. This story touched upon the Jews and Nazis, Italy, and cancer. The McCall family consists of 5 brothers, their drunken lawyer/judge father, and emotionally and physically battered mother. A full array of sub characters displays a vast gamut of emotions and personalities. During my reading, I had many questions for Conroy. Many of the questions surround John Hardin, the youngest of the 5 brothers. What is the significance of this character always being called his first and middle name? To many, this would seem minor, but the author plays on the name John Hardin. Many of the scenes are memorable, especially when a minor character reveals his/her story. We too often only see the surface and not the individual under the skin.… (more)
LibraryThing member aylin1
I didn't see a selection for the audie award winning Frank Muller narration of this book, but that is the version you'd want. Wonderful read on paper and audio.




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