NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Pat Conroy, one of America’s premier novelists, has penned a deeply affecting coming-of-age memoir about family, love, loss, basketball—and life itself. During one unforgettable season as a Citadel cadet, Conroy becomes part of a basketball team that is ultimately destined to fail. And yet for a military kid who grew up on the move, the Bulldogs provide a sanctuary from the cold, abrasive father who dominates his life—and a crucible for becoming his own man.
With all the drama and incandescence of his bestselling fiction, Conroy re-creates his pivotal senior year as captain of the Citadel Bulldogs. He chronicles the highs and lows of that fateful 1966–67 season, his tough disciplinarian coach, the joys of winning, and the hard-won lessons of losing. Most of all, he recounts how a group of boys came together as a team, playing a sport that would become a metaphor for a man whose spirit could never be defeated.
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“A superb accomplishment, maybe the finest book Pat Conroy has written.”—The Washington Post Book World
“A wonderfully rich memoir that you don’t have to be a sports fan to love.”—Houston Chronicle
“A memoir with all the Conroy trademarks . . . Here’s ample proof that losers always tell the best stories.”—Newsweek
“In My Losing Season, Conroy opens his arms wide to embrace his difficult past and almost everyone in it.”—New York Daily News
“Haunting, bittersweet and as compelling as his bestselling fiction.”—Boston Herald
I picked up "My Losing Season" not as a great fan of Pat Conroy or as a former athlete. I was attracted more by the theme of loss and its lessons. And I expected a different personal story than the one Conroy tells. The losing basketball season in his last year as a cadet at The Citadel in Charleston, SC, is a pretext for a much deeper theme - survival in the face of humiliation.
And it's not the losses of the games that are humiliating. On the one hand is the brutal and unrelenting contempt of his marine colonel father, a child abuser and wife beater. On the other hand is the withering scorn of Conroy's arbitrary and capricious coach, Mel Thompson. Both, in Conroy's account, do their best to beat the spirit out of the boy who has grown into an indomitable (though undersized and modestly talented) point guard for his team. And all of this takes place in the regimented, fierce, all-male environment of The Citadel in the 1960s, where incoming boys are routinely broken by the merciless hazing of their upperclassmen.
Humiliation is a much more difficult subject than loss to deal with. Loss leaves scars, but humiliation remains an open wound, and in writing about it there is the risk of slipping into the tug of war between self-pity and self-blame. Conroy takes us there sometimes, and those are the parts of his story that are lacerating. But win or lose, the ups and downs of the season are fascinating and the accounts of the games are thrilling. As a writer, he has a gift for hustling the reader with suspense and drama and sudden shifts of mood. As an observer of character, he vividly brings to life the individual boys who make up the team. As someone deeply wounded, he is able to freely and convincingly express the many articulations of the heart - especially love, admiration, and gratitude.
Once I started into this book, I could not put it down. It kept me reading late into the night. And when I wasn't reading, it filled my thoughts, as I'm sure it will for a long time. It's a troubling book that wants to resolve a host of dark memories. And it may well want to show the reader how to do the same. I'm not sure that it's completely successful in either regard. And maybe that's the point. It's enough to recast humiliation as loss. That is a wound that can eventually heal.
I haven't read all of Mr. Conroy's books yet, not because I don't think he is one of the great writers of all time, but because I know that I'll only get to read them once for the first time. My introduction into his worlds of fiction caught me by surprise because I was well into 'The Prince of Tides' before I realized that the book wasn't a true story. I now realize after reading 'My Losing Season' that everything he writes is true, even the fiction.
I would have broken down crying several times during the reading of this book, but my heart is still guarded by never sleeping sentinels whose tireless detail is to walk the stone walls that guard my interior. Mr. Conroy manages to gain an entrance, however, and at times during reading his work I feel a sense of hatred towards him. Not meanness, just anger with no where to go.
So what is it about this book, this story that makes it so worth reading? The nakedness that Pat Conroy brings to the page. The truth. Simple and raw and courageous. Enduring and joyful, sad and painful.
I envy his memories, his legacy, his past, not because I feel that the journey was easy or he was lucky, but because whatever molded him into the man he became, whatever blessing or curse that was bestowed him at birth, whatever angels or demons followed his path, he has been able to live outside of the shells and caves and fortresses that most of us dwell in. Or at least he has done so enough to make a difference.
While I can't recommend 'My Losing Season' enough, I do have one slight reservation, that being I don't know whether or not a first time reader will enjoy it more before or after they've read one of his previous books. But do read it, whether or not you are familiar with basketball, military colleges or the journey of broken boys trying to become men, you will turn the last page wishing there was more. I promise.