PortFolio Weekly
December 17, 2002

Winter Reading

by Jim Newsom

Pat Conroy
My Losing Season
(Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)

The “losing season” referred to in the title of Pat Conroy’s new book is The Citadel’s 1966-67 basketball season. The author was a senior point guard and captain of that team, which won only eight of 25 games. But for him, the season was “easily the most consequential of my life,” a time when he discovered things inside himself that he had no idea existed, and from which he evolved into the best selling author we know today.

Conroy uses the framework of this disappointing, frustrating basketball season to share the autobiographical details which he later put through the filter of fiction to create his novels, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music. Those familiar with this work will be surprised to learn that his father, Marine Col. Don Conroy, the real “Great Santini,” was even more brutal to his wife and children than his fictional counterpart. It also turns out that the rituals of barracks life at The Citadel were every bit as bizarre as those at the novelist’s Carolina Military Institute, where Lords of Discipline was set.

When the young Conroy left home to play basketball at South Carolina’s military college, he traded a selfish, unloving, violent father for a disciplinarian coach whose only motivational tools were belittlement, anger and intimidation:

“What my team needed was coaching and teaching and praise; what my team received once more was contemptuousness, rage and abuse.”

The season itself is reconstructed in rich detail through the memories of the point guard and his teammates. Through Conroy’s prose, the ’66-’67 Bulldogs hold the reader’s interest as tightly as if they’d gone on to the Final Four.

But you don’t have to be a basketball fan to lose yourself in the characters and events captured within the pages of My Losing Season. The times, the individuals, the culture, and one young man’s struggle to maturity and ultimate redemption are captured magnificently in this highly recommended work.

copyright © 2002 Port Folio Weekly. Used by Permission.