Thursday, May 18, 2017

Book 77: The Lords of Discipline

"To walk in the spire-proud shade of Church Street is to experience the chronicle of a mythology that is particular to this city and this city alone, a trinitarian mythology with equal parts of the sublime, the mysterious, and the grotesque. But there is nothing to warn you of Charleston's refined cruelty. That knowledge must be earned. No gargoyles hang from the sides of St. Philip's or St. Michael's. No messages are in the iron scrollwork of its gates to warn visitors like Poe, Osceola, me, and you."

Read: August 7-12, 2016

Rating: 10/10

When I'm grabbing my next book to read, I'm not reaching into a bookshelf and snagging whatever catches my eye. I have a spreadsheet. I have SO many unread books that it's really the only way to keep it together. I try to alternate hard copies and Kindle titles, and try to read about three ARCs for every five backlist titles. Since I've bought a lot of books over the years, it's the only way I'll be able to make sure I actually read all of them...without making myself do it, a lot of the older stuff would just pile up as shiny new things stole my attention away. Sometimes this means I read books I'm not actually super interested in anymore. That's okay, because it also means there are some total gems, like Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline, that I snagged on Kindle sale years ago and forgot. I honestly don't even know what drew me to buy the book in the first place, military school coming-of-age doesn't really speak to me, but I'm really glad that I did buy it because I loved it.

Will McLean is about to start his senior year at the Institute, a military academy in Charleston (based on the Citadel, Conroy's own alma mater). He didn't really want to go, but promised his father he would before his father died and gets a basketball scholarship anyways. He's not distinguished himself as a military man during his time there and doesn't plan to enlist and ship out to Vietnam as so many of his classmates intend, but he's almost made it through and is closely bonded with his three roommates, especially native blue-blooded Charlestonian Tradd St. Croix. Will is a quasi-outsider...while he's Southern and from an Institute family, he's also Catholic and an athlete, and probably the closest thing to a liberal on campus. Which is why he's assigned to look after incoming student Tom Pearce, the first black student to ever enroll, and protect him from the threat of a mysterious group called The Ten, who are deadset against integration. As Will's final year unfolds, he relives his own traumatic freshman year and we see how he's been shaped (sometimes against his own will) by the experiences he's had at the Institute as he tries to look out for Pearce, investigates The Ten, and falls in love with a troubled young socialite.

First of all, Conroy is an incredible writer. His plotting and pacing are masterful. He covers a lot of territory (freshman hazing, two suicides, a love affair, an investigation into a shadowy group, the experience of participating in organized athletics), but it never drags, nor does it feel overcrowded. Drama drives not from the mystery plot (which really only picks up in the last 20% or so of the book), but from experiences and relationships. The prose is strong and sure, lyrical without verging into purple territory, poignant and resonant. I have to imagine that Conroy loves Charleston as much as his protagonist does, because much of his most sweeping and sentimental prose is dedicated to the city and made me want to take a visit there myself.

The characters Conroy creates feel real...we obviously spend the most time with and are asked to identify the most with Will, but he's not perfect or beyond reproach. Even the person who's ultimately revealed as the "bad guy" has motivations that make sense. He places those characters in high-stakes situations without turning it into the lurid melodrama it could spill over into with less control. It's just a fantastic novel and I'm adding everything Conroy wrote to my TBR and I recommend this book highly to anyone, even if you don't think you'd like it.

Tell me, blog friends...has an author ever painted such a lovely picture of a place you feel inspired to visit there?

One year ago, I was reading: We Need To Talk About Kevin


  1. I'm so thrilled you loved this one!! It's one of my all-time favorites! And no one writes about the South like Conroy did. Rick Bragg comes decently close, but other than that, I've had a hard time finding anyone. Are you going to read some more Conroy?

    1. I'm definitely going to! I think the next one on my TBR is The Great Santini, but I've got another couple in there as well. I can't wait to read all his work!