It’s hard to believe that we’ve been without Pat Conroy’s lovable, gruff voice for three years now. When he died on March 4, 2016, we lost one of the last of a generation of Southern writers whose humorous, riveting, sad, terrifying and redemptive stories captured the ragged ways families fall in and out of love and hope. From his first novel, The Water Is Wide (which catapulted Conroy to a fame he never quite knew how to navigate), to Beach Music, his novels, like Thomas Wolfe’s glorious pageants, portray the struggle of finding home again and living in families whose steel-edged sentimentality prevents them from ever acknowledging the hard truths of abuse, failed love and violence.
The 2016 release of A Lowcountry Heart gave readers a chance to hear his entertaining voice as he regaled them with his reflections of the writing life. Now, in My Exaggerated Life, we get to hear Conroy’s voice again, unadorned and speaking plainly and cantankerously about his struggles and his triumphs in life. Between 2014 and 2016, Conroy spoke on the phone to biographer Katherine Clark—who co-wrote Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on This Planet with another Southern raconteur, Eugene Walter—every day for an hour or more; no topic was off limits. Clark weaves these conversations into a revealing biography structured by the places Conroy called home over the years: Beaufort, Atlanta, Rome, San Francisco and Fripp Island. Conroy admits his mistake in marrying Lenore Fleischer, his second wife, even as he rages over her taking away their daughter, Susannah, from him in the divorce. Conroy mourns the loss of Susannah—they never reconciled—deeply. He learns through therapy that he gets involved with people because he feels he needs to rescue them. He tells delightful stories about his years with his publisher, Nan Talese, and their work together.
Every page of My Exaggerated Life contains a gem from Conroy, despite the pain and vulnerability he shares through the book. His love of reading and writing fills the air that he breathes: “My deepest living is in the imagination of others, when I take that magic carpet ride of being a reader. . . . I think that’s why I want to write, to make others feel that way.” Welcome to Conroy’s magic carpet, and enjoy the ride.