I have been a great fan of the late Pat Conroy (1945-2016), since reading his novel, THE PRINCE OF TIDES and looked forward to getting into another of his books. But, alas, for me, THE GREAT SANTINI is not nearly as good. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.
Up front, you should know that THE GREAT SANTINI is heavily autobiographical. Like Pat Conroy’s own father, the father of this story, Lt. Colonel Wilbur Meecham, is career military. Meecham is a Marine fighter pilot without a war to fight. Instead he drinks and rules his family like he would a military barracks — excessively controlling and insisting on absolute obedience from everyone. He is also abusive — abuse that is both psychological and physical. Apparently, the publication of this book (and exposure of these family secrets) tore apart Conroy’s family.
Conroy’s alter ego, character Ben Meecham, is the oldest son out of seven children. So this book is also his coming-of-age story. With a father who is impossibly strict and difficult to please, how does one break away from such a dominating personality? What does it mean for a boy to become a man in such a situation?
I found the novel a bit slow, though the last third is much more compelling. The character of Col. Meecham/Santini casts a dark cloud over the entire book. And honestly, I was uncomfortable with the extent of the abuse.
So, for me, it winds up being a decent read only if you want to read a coming of age book about a boy with an abusive father. But I can’t say that was a particularly enjoyable experience. I also felt there wasn’t nearly as much depth to the characters as there could have been.
If you want to read a better book by Conroy, try THE PRINCE OF TIDES.
More about author Pat Conroy.
And, if you didn’t already know, THE GREAT SANTINI was made into a movie in 1979 starring Robert Duvall, Michael O’Keefe, and Blythe Danner.