The first time I read THE PRINCE OF TIDES, I was certain it was a perfect novel, both an incredible display of storytelling and poetry on the page. From the first paragraph: My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call. And the last few lines of the prologue: The truth is: Things happened to my family, extraordinary things. I know families who live out their entire destinies without a single thing of interest happening to them. I have always envied those families. The Wingos were a family that fate tested a thousand times and left defenseless, humiliated, and dishonored. But my family also carried some strengths into the fray, and those strengths let most of all of us survive the descent of the Furies. Unless you believe Savannah; it is her claim that no Wingo survived.
And while the story was certainly fiction, I knew the characters were based on his family.
When he wrote THE GREAT SANTINI, there was this: Responding to an editor’s request to soften his portrait of this hard-edged, take-no-prisoners [father] character, Conroy complied. “To make my father human,” he acknowledges here, “I had to lie.” Despite this softening, the novel touched off the first of numerous firestorms within the Conroy clan. Many relatives resented what they saw as a betrayal of family secrets.
I couldn’t stop reading, but not because of the storytelling or the poetry this time. I couldn’t stop reading because, selfishly, I was dying to peek behind the curtain and see what happened. I wanted to see (1) how Pat survived writing about his family and their secrets in novel after novel, and (2) how the Conroys survived Pat’s writing career.
Whenever I’m in a room with other writers, with people writing — or even just trying to get up the courage to write — about their families, this question inevitably comes up: What will happen if I write about my family?