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on September 21, 2001
After re-reading The Prince of Tides (a classic), I went to my "To Be Read" pile and grabbed The Great Santini. Although, it did not 'capture' me in the way The Prince of Tides did, it is definitely a great read. Pat Conroy once again, through his lyrical words, proves what a great writer and story-teller he is. The Great Santini is a powerful story about military life and a very complex father/son relationship. I both loved and hated Colonel Bull Meecham (who is the Great Santini). I have spent over 20 years as a military wife and Conroy really "knows his stuff" as he tells the story of the complexities of a military family. Bull is a typical military officer who finds it difficult to separate the way he behaves on duty from the way he behaves as a husband and father. He wants and tries to run his family life in the disciplined, hard-fashioned way he commands his "troops." Lillian is his devoted wife who plays the "role" of a military wife perfectly (I found her relationship with her son very touching--the letter she wrote him on his 16th birthday is a tear-jerker). Ben is Santini's son who is coming to terms with life as an adolescent and his feelings about his father; he is an extremely well written character who I grew to feel sorry for and admire at the same time. Maryann as Santini's sarcastic, wise-cracking daughter was my favorite character who has her own unique way of dealing with her father that makes the reader laugh out loud but, at the same time, realize how much she is hurting and craving his love and attention. It is a great story of the very good and also the very, very bad times of the Meecham family. It is funny, touching, emotional, sad--it has everything!! I highly recommend The Great Santini or any of Pat Conroy's books. He is the best!!
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on September 14, 2003
The Great Santini is absolutely beautiful to read. There's something about Conroy's characters that just draws one into the vortex of their lives. Each character is so individually unique and so real, that by the end of the novel, I feel as if I had grown up with the Meecham family! Conroy is incredibly skilled at creating totally engrossing characters who each have their own struggles and motivations... (all the major characters, even minor characters are very fully developed.)
Bull Meecham and Ben Meecham of course are my favorite characters in this novel...but all of the supporting characters are not far behind. It amazes me how Conroy lets the reader so intimately into his own family history...sometimes I believe it is even more powerful than any autobiography could ever be.
One of my favorite qualities of "The Great Santini" is the dialogue. Pat Conroy is hilarious --the wit and pace of the dialogue between the characters had me laughing out loud so many times. And in trademark Conroy style, a few pages later, I'll find myself tearing up!
The Great Santini revolves around the family life of a family of a Marine Aviator Officer...the novel follows them as they are transplanted to a new South Carolina town. The story is told from the perspective of the son, Ben Meecham.
I'm always so amazed by Conroy's ability to pen a love story...his love for his characters and storytelling shines through his writing and imagery. The Great Santini is an incredible (and disturbing) look into the love of a father-son, husband-wife, man-occupation, friend-friend. Conroy also does an excellent job at exploring racial tensions and the journey of a boy becoming a man. (I'd recommend reading "The Lords of Discipline" too! Many parallel ideas....)
I absolutely love this book! I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who wants to be swept off their feet by one of the best authors of our time.
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on January 26, 2003
This novel by Pat Conroy is an amazing contemporary novel that leads you through the life of a military family in the late 1950's. This book hits home having several family members, two being pilots and one a marine, that have served in the military, and it was a difficult book to put down. In many ways, the "Great Santini" reminded me of my father; a man that at times is both loved and hated by his family. Colonel Bull Meecham is a marine fighter pilot that demands respect as the "Great Santini" by both his family and his flight squadron. His oldest son Ben, a senior in high school, struggles with the relationship that he has with his father, who he hates very much but loves and respects. If not for Lillian Meecham, wife of the "Great Santini" and peacekeeper of the household, the harsh and sometimes abusive father would release his wrath without a second thought. From the witty remarks of Mary Anne to the competitiveness between Ben and his father, The Great Santini creates a family persona that many can relate. The Great Santini takes you through the difficulties of a year in the life of a southern marine family after the Korean War. I highly recommend entering the past and becoming a member of the Meecham family by reading The Great Santini. This non-stop novel reaches heights of laughter and tears and is well worth reading.
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on July 28, 2002
I decided to read this book on a bit of a whim. We were vacationing on Hilton Head, near Conroy's hometown, and I wanted to become better acquainted with this talented author's work while in his neck of the woods. I'd just finished reading "The Prince of Tides," which was a little disappointing (not bad, mind you, just different than I'd expected.). Of the two, I actually preferred "The Great Santini." This book, the tale of a Marine family temporarily based in South Carolina in the early 1960s, was both warm and bittersweet. The descriptions of the setting were dead on, just as one would expect it would be since it's situated in the author's home state. (BTW - the movie was filmed in Beaufort, S.C. - a real treat of a destination.) Be advised that there are troubling moments of family conflict, including domestic violence. But what is so compelling is the way that the reader becomes drawn to all of the family members -- even to bellicose Bull, the father. Particularly memorable is a chapter toward the end when Bull is flying through the night sky. It is one of the most moving and heartwrenching passages that I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Even if you've already seen the movie, you'll find this a worthy read.
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on March 5, 2001
The Great Santini was a very humorous book. This was the first Pat Conroy novel I had read, and I found his writing style quite refreshing. His story about the gung-ho Marine living up to an image larger than life with the back drop of a typical military family makes for an enjoyable combination. The 'Great Santini' is a fighter pilot, and this identity permeates his entire existence, within and outside the aircraft. His two older children Ben and Mary Anne are creatively portrayed as two teenagers coping with all the drama of a new high school and fitting in, under the shadow of a sometimes over-bearing father. Their humor back and forth alone will leave you smiling, if not occasionally laughing aloud as they shed their views on the world around them. Conroy's definitive portrayal of the Catholic family in the early 60's is also masterfully done, and lightly dressed with the tongue-in-cheek wit and humor that flows smoothly throughout the story. The overall plot and story line of the book seemed at times to be drifting along heading no where in particular, but in the end it concludes with a swift dose of reality that lies waiting in the wings of all who are part of the military life. All in all an enjoyable book that is very well written that ends in a somewhat sad, but dramatic conclusion. The story is about growing up in a Marine family from all angles. It was quite enjoyable and eye opening.
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on March 31, 2000
This was an excellent book. I found this book personally very interesting, because I grew up in a Marine Family also. Many of Mr. Conroys general descriptions of Marine life were dead on. For example, Mr Conroys description of Col. Meecham loading his family in the car leaving for a new duty station before the sun comes up, reminded me so much of many of the moves we made, incredible but yet so true, it made me laugh. Col Meecham was an extreme character, but many of his phrases and philosophies were familiar to me through some of the people I met growing up Marine. Not only that, his descriptions of Beaufort South Carolina, were also excellent. It put you right back there. You could almost smell the southern sea air and the swamps as you read. The book not only confronted the issues of a family trying to meet the impossibly high standards of thier Marine father, it also confronted the issue of racism in the south. There were many complicated emotional issues in the book. A lot of them do not get resolved, but it was the kind of book that makes you think for a while after you have finished it. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
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on July 21, 1999
It's arguable that Pat Conroy is the Faulkner of the 'Boomer generation, and this story is a good argument for the opinion that some warriors should not raise families. The syndrome of "bringing the job home" can really get out of hand. Bull Meecham (a.k.a. "the Great Santini") has only his Southern Belle--Philosophical Version wife to counteract his attempts to turn his household into a boot camp and his children into grunts (until I read this book, I thought my own WWII generation Dad was the poster child for vets who never really became civilians again--at least my old man wasn't still serving). "Santini" is without a doubt an asset to his jet fighter wing, but he's managed to father a son who's got an identity crisis from trying to emulate the old man without being enough of a hardcase to bring it off. There's also a daughter whose above-average intelligence, combined with the household invironment, has made her into an aggressive cynic. Then there's a baby sister who's still young enough for naiivite, but you can't help but speculate about what kind of person she'll turn out to be later in life. "Santini" is a curious mixture of a superlative fighthing man and a lousy parent.
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on April 13, 1998
Nobody has wrung more novels from a dysfunctional family than Pat Conroy. In The Great Santinti he opens a window which may give a new and unexpected view to many Americans, into the family life of a career military man. For those who have never lived within the military, this book may seem bizarre and contrived. For those of us who did, it hits a nerve - even for those of us whose father was not an abusive borderline alcoholic fighter pilot.
The sense of rootlessness, of being disconnected from the rest of society is here. Military families live in a strange semisubmerged culture invisible to the mainstream, and with the ending of the draft we have a generation of Americans who have never served and thus the gap has widened. The only friendships we form are with other military people, for civilians, even in the towns outside the main gate, are partially alien and can never be part of the community. Conroy captures this, and superimposes upon it the additional strains imposed by the father's domineering, macho, iron willed personality. Face it, he's not Gerald McRaney from Major Dad. No trying to understand the fears and dreams of his family, we do it by the book, my way or no way, sir, yes sir!!! There is stress between Colonel Santini and his neurotic southern belle wife, who wants to ensure her children grow up with a gentle appreciation for life, with his son who wants desperately to please his father but to do it by following his own path, and with his intelligent but socially awkward daughter who being a mere girl is not qualified for the warrior life and thus doesn't count. The military life is hard enough, throwing in these problems on top of it makes you wonder at the limits we accept in everyday life.
Hard edged, disorienting, sometimes ugly, this book is for all veterans of the Cold War, active duty or dependents, who lived with the possibility that the head of the family might be called upon to go off and die in someplace most of us couldn't locate on a globe (as an aside I find that former military brats are much better at geography than most others - for one thing we got letters from all those exotic locales)... Admiral Hyman Rickover once said military officers should be like a caste of warrior priests... this novel is about that caste and the acolytes who also served. Pat Conroy once wrote elsewhere to the effect that his father's job was to be a fighter pilot, and his family's job was to provide that fighter pilot whenever the govenrment called for him.
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on January 7, 1997
Pat Conroy's novel The Great Santini tells of the coming of age of Ben Meechan. Ben, the oldest son of Bull and Lillian Meechan, is a clean cut, smart athlete. Bull, the Great Santini, is a macho marine fighter pilot who is trying to relive his youth through his son Ben. Lillian is a naive southern belle who is very passionate toward her children. Ben is scared of his father and he tries to protect the rest of his family from him.

Ben moves to Ravenel, South Carolina during his junior year of high school. He makes a few friends and becomes the star basketball player. This causes a conflict with his father who is never satisfied with his son's achievements. Bull is called to go on a routine flying mission to Florida. His plane crashes and Bull is killed. At the conclusion of the novel, Ben assumes the family responsibilities formerly held by Bull.

The theme in this book is that people show their love in different ways. Bull constantly nags the children and is overly intense because he is always trying to make them better. Lillian babies the children and wants the boys to be southern gentleman because she does not want them to be like Bull. Ben and his sister, Mary Anne, argue constantly as many siblings do. After their father's death, they show their love for each other by coming together as a family. Mr. Dacus, Ben's principal and basketball coach, is aware of Ben's situation at home. He becomes protective of Ben and later has to tell Ben about his father's death.

The main strength in this book is the great amount of detail. An example of this is,"...sleeping as the car rolled through vast wilderness and untransmissible lights." The characterization was also a strength. It is obvious that Bull is very stern when the author says, "His voice could quiet a bar full of drunks during a fight." Sammy, Ben's best friend, showed his insecurity by usually telling his dates a false name. There were so many strengths in this book that any weaknesses would go unnoticed.

The novel The Great Santini, by Pat Conroy, depicts the adolescent life of Ben Meechan as though the reader were part of the story. It is easy to understand the life that a Marine family must endure; the constant moving, having to always make new friends and the fear of your father never returning from a mission. Ben's emotions could be felt in the excitement on the court and the fear of his father. Ben's internal conflict is accurately depicted in the manner in which he deals with his father's death.

Conroy is able to write this story so well because it is based on a part of his life. He actually moved to Beaufort (Ravenel), South Carolina during his junior year of high school. He was very upset at having to move one more time. His mother, whom he loved dearly, told him, "Go out and make this town your town." Conroy has lived and traveled all over the world, but he still calls Beaufort home.

Conroy was the star basketball player for his high school and attended The Citadel on a basketball scholarship. His father would never let him take a typing class because he thought that typing classes were only for girls. Conroy says that this has proven to be the most expensive thing his father has ever done to him. To this day he still cannot type. He writes his manuscripts in longhand and must pay to have them typed.
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on December 28, 1996
Though this is Pat Conroy's first novel, he certainly has promise as an author. His descriptions of locations and appearances are vivid and engaging. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same for his characters.
Ben Meecham, a high-school senior, is coping with the physical and mental abuse of his Marine pilot father, Bull. His mother, a Southern Belle named Lilian, is sweet and kind, but not without faults of her own. The daughter, Mary Anne, only one year younger than Ben, is ugly and quite cynical. Yet they live together, in an uncertain harmony, with younger children Matt and Karen.
The problem with these characters is not Mr. Conroy's ability to create them as living, breathing beings. It is, rather, the lack of depth he has given them. After reading the novel, one does not really care about what happens to the central characters, and that is a definate problem.
Likewise, the events that surround them seem to be self-serving and only present to cause the desired outcome. Being in a military family, the Meechams are used to moving throughout the South at a moment's notice, leaving friends and family behind. Mr. Conroy introduces a rape, without ever resolving the cause or effect on the community, purely with the purpose of creating an ironic twist in the plot: Ben's best friend leaves him instead of the other way around.
Bull Meecham's eventual death, likewise, seems to serve no purpose but to justify Ben's ascent to manhood. The effect on the rest of the family is rattled off with a mere few pages, most of which describe funeral arrangements.
Nonetheless, Mr. Conroy's ability to create a living, breathing world that certainly engages the reader is more than enough to warrant reading this novel. Despite its obvious faults, it is quite enjoyable.
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