Reviews of Great Santini, the (1976)
Review by stellis (2006-06-14)
Pat Conroy's The Great Santini is the original Conroy novel about an abusive military father raising an athletic son in South Carolina. Beach Music, Conroy's second novel with the same premise, was published in 1995.
The story's plot centers around the lives of U.S. Marine Colonel Bull Meecham and his family, particularly the relationship between Meecham and his son, Ben. Meecham is the stereotypical military macho-man: he is as uncultured as he perceives the South to be, he is crass, and he is obsessed with both manliness and the military. He is also immature, a joker, and an abusive father. As I stated earlier, abusive relationships between fathers and athletic sons seems to be a trend for the autobiographically-leaning Conroy; as a result of this and a few other factors, The Great Santini's characters (depending on which Conroy books you've already read) will seem shallow and recycled.
Conroy's book suffers less from its unoriginal plot than from the sickening triteness of its prose and the obnoxious smart-aleck dialogue of its characters. It seems as though "witty" dialogue just floats through Conroy's head in an incessant stream and every once in awhile he will vomit it out into a book. Much of the dialogue is pointless, reveals nothing about the characters (and even, on occasion, contradicts their personalities or motives), and juxtaposes poignant thought with crass toilet humor. A vivid example is a point in the book when Ben notices the stars over South Carolina "shivering" in the heavens above him and accidentally urinates on his father's foot.
Despite Pat Conroy's indisputable gift for description, The Great Santini suffers from an uninspired plot, shallow dialogue, and unoriginality. If you must read Conroy, stick to The Prince of Tides.