Monday, June 13, 2011

The Lords of Discipline

Set in a military institute (the Citadel in everything but name), this was a suspenseful novel about one cadet and his experiences at the "Institute." I couldn't get past the idea that the main character, Will McLean, was Conroy in everything from his self-deprecating and sarcastic sense of humor, his love for basketball, and his ambivalence toward military life. And indeed, Will probably is a thinly veiled Conroy. I liked Will in a lot of ways, but I don't think I would like Conroy as a person, even though I couldn't get away from connecting the two. Is that weird?

The story is set in the 60s and Will, being one of the few non-racist cadets, is given the task of helping the first black cadet integrate into the Institute safely, without excess hazing from all of the thousands of other racist cadets. Why is Will the only cadet to have an acute sense of justice? If Will is a mirror of the author, Conroy must have an inflated view of himself. Will was the funny guy, the jock, the scholar, the good friend, the empathetic savior of the downtrodden. Though Will poignantly relates his own shortcomings, it seems to only serve to illustrate the fact that he is the bigger man, that he is mature enough to recognize his own faults.

A review of the book online that I read in the middle of the novel said that the writing was "fustian." This was a new vocab word for me. Meaning: pompous. Yes! On top of the fact that Will was so righteous in a crowd of monsters, the writing felt pompous. I kind of felt like Conroy was trying to impress the reader with his use of tons of ten-dollar words (as Hemingway would say). But at times his "pomposity" (is that a word? "pompousness"??) would fall away to reveal truly beautiful and haunting prose.

The format maximized the suspense and the power of the story. Divided into four parts, it began with Will's senior year, then went back to his freshman year, and parts 3 and 4 returned to the remainder of his senior year. I remembered how much I love foreshadowing. These little zingers of lines: (paraphrasing) "I hated to think of any of my friends dying in Vietnam. Later, I would wish that Dante had died there." Oohh.... delicious! That sentence could go so many ways, and lemme tell ya, it didn't mean what I thought it meant.

Grade: B

I think I'm done with Conroy. I do want to read his book "My Reading Life" about the books that shaped him as a man and an author, but no more Conroy novels for this girl.