Sometimes a book will enter my life at the exact moment that I need it, and I know when this happens because I see a circumstance differently or my heart is changed by the story. Yet other times a book settles inside me and works its magic slowly, so it is only later, even years later, that I see its impact on my life. Beach Music by Pat Conroy is just such a book.
I read Beach Music in the mid-90s and it quickly became one of my favorite books. To this day, when I am asked for a list of my favorite books, I always include this novel. It wasn’t until lately that I understood its influence in my life. This story, its sadness and humor, its lyrical prose and twisting plot, changed the way I viewed both life and writing.
What I see now is how this novel softened me to understand that a great story can include deep sadness, that it is OK to look sorrow and hurt directly in the painful eye. When I first started writing, I was afraid to include the aching truth. I wanted to cover or avoid the pain so the reader wouldn’t flinch from the story or turn away from my writing. Beach Music taught me that I didn’t have to skirt around the truth. Stories do not need to be all roses and romance to be good and right and true. Heartache and bad things happen to all of us and they can happen to our characters also. There is redemption in the honest telling of the sadness.
I have also come to see that Beach Music enlightened me to the truth that lyrical writing and page-turning stories do not have to be segregated or isolated from each other. Poetic prose can be married to an enchanting story in such a way that we don’t notice either but come to see them as one.
Beach Music haunts me to this day. I think of the opening scene and both the agony and joy of the characters and family. It is a novel that still moves around in the unconscious places inside me.
Born in Philadelphia, Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling storyteller of eleven books, quickly learned where her heart would be the happiest and moved South. Patti now lives in Alabama, and weaves elements and locations in the South into her bestselling novels, enchanting readers with her vivid descriptions and beautiful settings. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story. In her upcoming novel, The Stories We Tell, Patti has delivered the most innovative story of her career– filled with love, family secrets, and betrayals– set in Savannah, Georgia.
The Stories We Tell will be available everywhere June 24 (St. Martin’s Press) – but you can enter now to win an advanced reading copy. If you win, we hope you come back to comment below and let us know what you think.
About the book: Imagine the compelling warmth of NBC’s Parenthood merged with one of Nicholas Sparks’ bittersweet love stories; The Stories We Tell explores the transformational impact of keeping secrets and the importance of seeking the truth in all aspects of life and love.
The Morrisons are the ideal Savannah family; successful husband Cooper, artistic and loving wife Eve, and beautiful daughter Gwen make up a picturesque trio beloved by their community. But not everything is as it appears after a car accident creates secrets, lies and deeper tension within the Morrison family, culminating in a truth revealed that Eve never expected to find.