Free eBook Beach Music –

An American expatriate in Rome unearths his family legacy in this sweeping novel by the acclaimed author of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini A Southerner living abroad, Jack McCall is scarred by tragedy and betrayal His desperate desire to find peace after his wife’s suicide draws him into a painful, intimate search for the one haunting secret in his family’s past that can heal his anguished heart Spanning three generations and two continents, from the contemporary ruins of the American South to the ancient ruins of Rome, from the unutterable horrors of the Holocaust to the lingering trauma of Vietnam, Beach Music sings with life’s pain and glory It is a novel of lyric intensity and searing truth, another masterpiece among Pat Conroy’s legendary and beloved novels

10 thoughts on “Beach Music

  1. JT JT says:

    I would never have read this book, had it not been left in a pile of paperbacks on a rig offshore, and I had I not finished the two books I brought with me already. I honestly had no idea what to expect, and almost put it down after 13 pages because Talladega Nights was on HBO.

    But I didn't, and I spent large chunks of my afternoons once back onshore reading this monstrosity. Beach Music is a grand, sweeping novel of a Southern man in a Southern city in a Southern state (South Carolina, ironically). But it's more than that. It's a novel about families and relationships, births and deaths, and coming of age.

    It's also a seriously wordy tome. 800 pages of very small type. It rambles in places, too. I could easily get rid of 200+ pages without affecting the main storyline one bit. The dialogue is sharp and, at times, quite funny. The characters are flawed, but likeable.

    But for all its faults, all you really need to know is that I had trouble putting it down.

  2. Jason Jason says:

    I met Pat Conroy at a book signing event in Atlanta when this book was released. There just so happened to be another Furman Alumni in line ahead of us and I heard Conroy say something about Furman. I spoke up making sure he knew I was there. His response was something like You Furman people are like Lynx, you're everywhere! So, thinking I understood that his spat with The Citadel had turned him sour against the school I made some smartass, derogatory comment about The Citadel. He signed my book Citadel Forever, Pat Conroy. I'm such a jackass.

    I've read this book at least 3 times and I've cried at the ending all three times. The first time I was in a room full of prospective jurors waiting to be called for duty in Marietta, GA. I had to go to the restroom to finish the last page or two and collect myself before going back out into that room of 200 strangers. Beautiful, beautiful book.

  3. Sara Sara says:

    The back cover of this book doesn't give a very good description of what the plot is about. And why would it (how could it?), when the plot is this much of a mess? In short: Jack McCall is an American who moves to Rome with his young daughter after his wife commits suicide, intending to never see anyone from his past again (including his own family), but he eventually comes home and starts dealing with the past.

    The long version of the plot is... I don't even know where to begin, the book is such a mess. In the preface alone, all this happens: Shyla (Jack's wife) kills herself before their daughter is two years old; Shyla's parents sue Jack for custody of his daughter, claiming he's an unfit father and even lying in court that he beats his daughter; everyone believes that if Jack had only been a good husband and a good father, his wife would not have killed herself; Jack retains custody of his daughter not because he's actually a good father but because of a letter his wife wrote before she died; and Jack moves to Rome to be a travel writer there and escape his past. I feel exhausted just recapping that - and it was only the preface. Good grief. What more could happen in the next nearly-800 pages? Jack is conveniently everyone's confidant, he's at important places when big events happen, and he's pivotal to everyone. Let me give a rundown of the book's topics:

    -Family secrets. Shyla's sister-in-law tracks down Jack with a private investigator and says her family wants to make up with him and they realize he didn't kill Shyla, it was her mom who'd driven her to suicide! And if Jack would only let her explain, he'd understand. Also, they want to know his daughter and they have family secrets to share with him.

    -Suicide. Shyla's death is a huge factor in the book. Everyone seems to have the idea that Jack wasn't a good husband because of it. Jack even says that one of his high school friends would have put him on her list of available guys but since his wife killed herself, he's clearly not good husband material. Huh?

    -Hollywood! One of Jack's high school friends gets in touch with Jack; he's a big Hollywood producer now and wants Jack to write a miniseries about their childhoods. I understand that everyone thinks they have a story in them, and lots of people think the story of their lives would be a great movie, but dang. Really? This producer is convinced he needs Jack on board or it won't be a huge hit.

    -Abuse. There are abusive fathers and abusive pastors. There was also an incident in which Jack stopped a man from hitting a woman (everyone was in disbelief that Jack stood up to this beast!) and then ended up in jail for the night with his daughter by his side. Yeah.

    -Religion. Jack is Catholic and Shyla was Jewish. And yet they made it work! Everyone is shocked by the fact they worked so well together with this religious difference.

    -A faked death/disappearing act. One of their high school friends had supposedly died and everyone went to his memorial service, but the Hollywood producer claims the man is alive... and Jack knows where he is! This is actually true; the guy had faked his own death to get away from his abusive father and reinvented himself as a priest in Rome. Jack is the only friend who knows he's still alive. But how did everyone else hear the rumor that this guy had faked his own death? Simple: one of their old teachers, on vacation in Italy, went to confession and heard his voice as her confessor! Since she never forgets a voice, she immediately recognized who it was by voice alone and spread the word back home!

    -The Nazis.


    -The Vietnam War - Jack and his friends protest during this, all of which is shown in flashbacks.

    -Leukemia. Jack's mom is dying of cancer, which brings him back to the US. He's initially skeptical, because she'd faked cancer before for attention.



    -Loggerhead turtles and their eggs.

    I could go on, but I won't. This book was so melodramatic, so sappy, that I felt as if I were reading a Lifetime Original Movie, only for men. And covering so many topics that it wasn't even movie-length. It was more like a seasons-long series that I'd never, ever want to actually watch.

    Jack's daughter, who plays a bigger role early on in the book but then gets sort of lost in the rest of the madness, is precocious and completely unbelievable. The dialogue between her and Jack is particularly awkward in a book filled with tedious conversations. She never acted her age, and the author wrote Jack in a way that tried to make him seem like the perfect, absolute perfect father doting on his perfect, absolutely perfect daughter, but it was done in such a sappy manner that they never actually felt real.

    The writing was also poor. It wasn't completely awful - it was readable - but it certainly wasn't stellar. The book did not need to be so long; the book sorely needed to be edited. An example of the purple prose:

    After we finished the pasta, I assembled a large army of greens and arranged them deftly until they took on a disheveled order. The olive oil was extra-virgin and recently pressed in Lucca and the vinegar was balsamic, black from its careful aging in rimmed barrels, and soon the smells of the kitchen coalesced to make me dizzy as I kissed the two women in my life and poured the wine to toast the health of the three of us.

    This is why the book ended up at nearly 800 pages.

    Jack has four brothers, three of whom blended together to the point that I couldn't distinguish between them; the fourth only stood out because he suffered from schizophrenia and would rant obnoxiously. It wasn't funny, it wasn't clever, and it didn't make for good filler material - especially since so much else was contained in this book!

    There was a random flashback when Jack visits Venice and he recalls another time when he'd visited Venice and a masked woman led him to her house, where she proceeds to have sex with him (in pretty explicit detail) and he realizes that she would never reveal her identity to him. It was rather odd, since it affected the plot in absolutely no way.

    Also: there was a Jewish man who'd moved to this town way back in the day, befriending Jack's grandparents, and everyone loved him. Everyone refers to him (to his face, behind his back) as The Great Jew. I am not joking. The Great Jew.

    I did like one short part of the book, a flashback in which Jack and some of his high school friends go fishing on the water and end up stranded for days, having to rely on the survival skills of one of them in order to live. This part was actually interesting. But that was it. And it wasn't worth the 500+ pages it took to get there. It also had no effect on the rest of the book. But then again, so much of the book had no effect on the rest of the book.

    Just when the book finally, FINALLY ends... there's more disappointment! There's an epilogue! As if more needed to be said about anything. But it was a way to jump forward in the future and show how perfect life had turned out for Jack. This was all done in a super sappy, melodramatic manner that seemed more fit for a made-for-TV movie-of-the-week than a supposedly big saga about family and whatever else.

    This book was awful and way too long; I skimmed most of it because it definitely was not worth the time to actually read. I would have stopped on page 2 if this hadn't been this month's book club pick. I can't believe this book has ANY good reviews, let alone the fact that the author is a bestseller!

  4. Erin Rouleau Erin Rouleau says:


    It's weird because there's something amateur? unintellectual? about his writing, yet it's profoundly wise and he comes up with poetic comparisons all over the place. I can't place it. Maybe the characters are a bit too cheesy at times. Hopeless romantic? I don't know. But he writes about insanely tragic things and with utter understanding. This and Prince of Tides are very healing books - they have a raw power.

    One paragraph summed up my Mom in such beauty that that is all I need to know. I can stop trying to figure her out. That paragraph was insanely healing.

    I can't imagine the utter grief and loss he must have experienced in his lifetime - you can tell he writes what he knows.

    His knowledge on the holocaust was amazing also. It brought to light the idea of fear and how to fear only cowardice is so important, in life and if not followed allows the holocaust to happen and allows you to be reduced to sub human.

    I watched Moulin Rouge shortly after and realized how profound Toulouse's character is. The Bohemian Revolution has a negative conotation to it and yet I can see exactly where and why it sprung up when people allowed themselves to be reduced to dogs - not human at all anymore and really all that matters is truth, beauty and freedom and love. Without those elements we are nothing but cowards and there's no point to living. Like in the Mao regime - all based on fear - fear of what I don't know what was Mao afraid of to hate protest beauty enforcing grass to be picked?

  5. Kate Dolack Kate Dolack says:

    Pat Conroy is a magical writer, and his 'Beach Music,' is no exception. This is perhaps my favorite book of all time, though I do alternate with his other, 'The Prince of Tides,' so beware that I'm reviewing 'Beach Music' as a committed Conrophile, (if such a phrase could exist). Jack McCall is a sweeping character, and when the book opens, we find he and his daughter ensconced away in Rome after a family tragedy. What follows is a story that, in my opinion, weaves a brilliant quilt of familiarly eccentric characters through various periods of the twentieth century. Conroy is excellent at exposing family drama while psychologically diving deep below the surface, yet almost entirely colored by the perspective of his Jack McCall. Conroy, the son of a Marine Aviator, did not grow up exclusively in the Charleston low-country, though he has called Charleston his adopted home. Given Conroy's incredible descriptions of low-country, as well as Rome, a reader might surmise that Conroy isn't really writing about a fictional Jack McCall, but more various facets of his own life disguised. Perhaps this is why I love 'Beach Music,' and Pat Conroy so very much: one gets less of a sense that they are reading complete fiction, but rather peeking into the diary of a literary great.

  6. Sharon Metcalf Sharon Metcalf says:

    Not so much a book as a life experience, Pat Conroy's Beach Music covers a heck of a lot of topics. Like his other titles this one has family and friendship are the forefront but the scope of this novel was vast covering alcoholism, suicide, schizophrenia, domestic violence, religion, the holocaust, the vietnam war, politics, trust, sickness, survival, and love in all shapes and sizes. He so thoroughly tackles each topic it sometimes felt like he'd written several books in one.

    Primarily set in Waterford, South Carolina, Beach Music is a family saga of epic proportions. From the very first sentence of the Prologue we learnt Jacks' wife Shyla suicided leaving him to raise their 2 year old daughter Leah. Shyla leapt to her death and was swept away just as we readers were swept into the drama of this magnificent book. Beach Music was a tribute to Shyla, to Southern families of all shapes and sizes, to enduring friendships and to reconciliation. As Jack leads us through his personal history and those of extended family, of friends and their families, the stories creep into progressively more difficult territory. Recollections of domestic violence within his own home and that of his friend Jordan. From his mothers desperately difficult redneck start to life, he progressed to sharing his in-laws experiences as European Jews. With entire chapters dedicated to the atrocities and horrors of WWII this made for horrendous reading. Jack recalls his experiences of resisting the Vietnam war, highlighting the divisiveness caused within American society, amongst family and friends, the strength of opinion and lengths people went to express their beliefs. Of course these are just some of the bigger topics and not all were gloom and doom. There were stories of flourishing friendships showing how trust was built as big and small life experiences were shared. There were stories of brotherly love, albeit expressed with sarcasm, humour and gruffness. The way those same brothers learnt to express their love in both words and deeds for their dying mum. There was the passing of the baton from grandmother to granddaughter for the care and protection of the loggerhead turtles. There was the delightful relationship between Jack and daughter Leah, and the stories of the Great dog Chippie. There was an element of intrigue as we waited to find out what had caused an irreparable rift between previously firm friends, and so the list goes on. As I sit and try to catalogue the high's and lows the list is long. For me, the the icing on the cake was the way it caused tears of both sadness and joy, and the fact that I never once tired of this book of almost 800 pages.

    As always Pat Conroy's writing was delicious, insightful and full of meaning. He's skilled at creating characters that step off the page, into your life and linger in your memory. But above all of this he is a master in the art of telling a story. I have a hunch these words (p249) attributed to Jack actually describe Pat Conroy himself. We told stories to each other, and my brothers, like me, mark time by cherishing the details that stud the layers of each great story. They were Southern boys and they knew how to make a story sizzle when it hit the fat . Thank you Pat Conroy, your story most definitely sizzled throughout and it made me cherish the details.

  7. W W says:

    The sheer size of this book is daunting,over 600 pages,in my hardback edition. I had been very impressed by Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides and wanted to read more of his work.

    So,I was prepared to spend a good long while reading it.It has a lot of characters and too many different stories.Conroy takes too many detours. However,in their own right,these disparate stories remain interesting,though a shade disturbing.

    As in The Prince of Tides,dysfunctional family life is at the centre of the book. There is a lot of doom and gloom,and as in his other books,Conroy seems to have drawn heavily from his own life.

    There is one character,modeled on his brother,who took his own life. There are boyhood adventures,a military school and tales of holocaust survivors,among other things.That part is very violent.

    It all begins in Italy,a single man raising his daughter,after his wife's suicide. But after a while,it's back to the American South,which he knows best.

    The protagonist and his brothers keep vigil by the bedside of their dying mother,who herself is not a likeable character.Nor for that matter,is their father.

    It is not really a cheerful book. It has pretty dark, themes with some graphic violence. But at times has it is very intense and has flashes of the Conroy humour. I certainly wished,however,that it was a lot shorter. It took far too much time to read.

  8. Lp Lp says:

    Possibly one of the worst books I have ever had the misfortune to read. I bought it after hearing Nan Talese, Conroy's editor, talk about how it was put together. In retrospect, I should have realized that her telling of how Conroy was impaired by drink and depression during the writing of the book, and her active role in putting the book together meant it would be a crazy-quilt hodgepodge rambling Faulkner wannabe of a book. When the Nazis showed up, I though, Oh My God.

  9. Bill Bill says:

    I'm having a hard time kicking this review off, because there is much.

    I finished this novel last night and have started another, but my head is still full of this story.

    When I was about 3/4 through the story, an image came to mind. You know when you place a drop of oil on a water surface and then that drop expands out? That's how this story structure seemed to evolve.

    Beach Music starts off with the main character talking about his wife, who had jumped off a South Carolina bridge to her death. He has started a new life in Rome with his young daughter.
    As Jack struggles to come to terms with his wife's suicide and recent developments in his life, the past is slowly revealed to us. His Southern past, and his friends and family's past. I thought Pat Conroy's story structure and even his pacing was brilliant.

    I say even his pacing because some of the more negative reviews I've seen have called this novel bloated and tedious. And that can be a fair assessment depending on how you approach it.
    I picked Beach Music off the to-read list after rejecting a good chunk of suspense novels that have started to dominate my list. At the time, the genre was becoming tiresome to me. The predictability of unreliable narrators, the obligatory twists, my eyes just glazed over them.
    I was in the mood for just a novel. Just a story with family drama and characters I could care about.

    I was tired of fast paced plotting. I was tired of racing through yet another hype of the month.
    Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides was one of my favorite novels ever (Lords of Discipline, not so much), so it was time to give him another shot.
    I was ready to settle back, and let a story unfold in my head.
    This story: I felt like I lived it.

    Pat Conroy was in no rush to tell this story. There are many paths taken and thoughts to consider, so the reader should not be in a rush to have the story (stories) told.
    My head is full. So many parts to this story will continue to linger with me and in some ways it's a burden...I want to move on and enjoy my next read. But in other ways it's wonderful.
    I must say that the only negative thing here was how I felt about the second-last chapter or so...the gathering was a bit of a reach for me. But this is a very small thing in the grand scheme, and easily forgettable (I had completed this review and forgot to mention it...until just now).

    It's going to take a while to shake this novel off. Five stars for that. A brilliant read that I would recommend to anyone.

  10. Jenny (Reading Envy) Jenny (Reading Envy) says:

    Prior to reading Beach Music, I had only experienced Conroy in his reading memoir, My Reading Life. Since I knew he would be at the SC Book Festival, I spent most of my reading time this past week coming back to this book. I had started it on a beach trip with my sister over spring break, but some of the topics were a little too close to me at that time.

    Jack, the main character in this novel, has lived in Rome with his daughter Leah ever since his wife Shyla committed suicide and he had a very close custody battle with Leah's grandparents. He is summoned home to Charleston because his mother has cancer, and the rest of the almost 800 pages go forwards and backwards in time, filling in all the pieces of the story he knows and some he doesn't know.

    The parts seem disconnected at first, ranging from the Holocaust to Vietnam to a time at sea with a sting ray, but they all branch out from the central story in some way. One of the more active parts of the story have to do with his childhood friend Jordan, who everyone thought had died, and that helps to bridge the gaps between some of the others.

    Pat Conroy is hard to fully comprehend for me. I have heard he has very similar themes in all his fiction - the dysfunctional family, the mental illness, the Holocaust and Vietnam, the landscape of the low country, the abusive father (and in this book everyone has an abusive father!) - but after seeing him speak and seeing him interact with his brothers and one of his sisters yesterday at the SC Book Festival, I don't really blame him. It is clear that his family history permeates every moment, and his family is important to him.

    There is a sense of shocking reality to some of his writing, but then he will write these scenes of sheer unbelievability - dancing with his future wife as the ocean washes a house out to sea, a sea creature dragging the boat away, the magical rescue of the turtles - his writing is very poetic in these sections but it grated against the surrounding story to me. I wish he'd separated out his good ideas into 3 solid novels - one about the man going home after his wife's suicide, one about the boy thought dead, and one that had the more magical elements. It had the feeling of a forced epic, when the strength comes in the smaller elements - the conflicts between people, and the secrets in their histories.

    For me, it was a shock and then a comfort to be reading a novel about someone going home after a long time away to be with a mother who has cancer, since that is what my summer looks like it will be. Despite all the other stories swirling around it, that was the story I paid the most attention to, and cared the most about. And the turtles, I really cared about the turtles. There is so much in here that I might read it differently in a different year, but I really need to read the book he wrote about his father next - The Great Santini. You can't escape contemporary southern literature without acknowledging Pat Conroy, and you can't escape the man himself if you are around anything book related in the state of South Carolina. He's a southern superstar.