- Kirsten Klassen
Tell Me a Story - Book Review
Published for the first time under her married name, Cassandra King Conroy tells the story of her marriage to author Pat Conroy in intimate detail in her new memoir, Tell Me a Story. Released in October 2019, the book follows previous acclaimed novels such as The Sunday Wife, Making Waves, and The Same Sweet Girls, all published under the name Cassandra King.
It was by some remarkable stroke of fate that they even met on that first night: a party in Birmingham, Alabama, at which Cassandra arrived late and Pat was leaving early. It was a last-minute change of plans that kept him around just long enough for the two to make their acquaintance—a conversation which, unbeknownst to either of them, would be the start of their mutually life-changing love story.
“How could I possibly know that after one lovely but platonic dinner date, Mr. Conroy was about to come storming into my placid life with the force of a category 5 hurricane, and that nothing afterward would ever be the same?” (excerpt from Tell Me a Story)
Having already published many wildly successful books—some of which had even been adapted into Oscar-nominated films—Pat Conroy was a name that Cassandra was more than familiar with, even before that fateful night. She would soon learn that the man who wrote some of her favorite novels was just as complicated as the characters in his stories.
As she was introduced to each of Pat’s family members, Cassandra quickly recognized elements of their personalities, which were shared by several of the fictional characters in Pat’s books. Early in their relationship, it became clear that the tumultuous father-son relationship in his novel The Great Santini was more autobiographical than Cassandra could’ve ever guessed. Still, she found herself falling in love with even the darkest and most complex parts of Pat’s life—including his father, the Great Santini himself. The painful relationship between the two men had cast a long-lasting shadow upon Pat, and the remnants of childhood abuse occasionally resurfaced in the form of Pat’s quick temper with enemies and loved ones alike.
“Pat was at the top of his game, where every writer dreams of being, but beneath the successful facade would always be a hurt little boy.”
Of course, Cassandra brought her own fair share of emotional baggage to the relationship. Having been recently divorced from the preacher to whom she was married for twenty years, her romance with Pat called for some relearning. For the first time in years, she knew what it was like to be understood as a writer, as a partner, and as a person.
Their life together was cut short when Pat suddenly fell ill in 2016. His diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was followed by the rapid deterioration of both his physical and mental health. After his death, Cassandra found herself comforted by the memories of their eighteen-year marriage—a story of two complicated lovers that now she alone is left to tell.
“At one point Pat said something that both infuriated me and broke my heart. Out of the blue he turned to look at me and said, ‘You’ll get married again.’ I shook my head in a fury. ‘No. I won’t.’ When he asked if it was that bad, I gave him a watery smile. ‘No, you idiot,’ I said. ‘It was that good.’”
Tell Me a Story showcases the beautiful writing that Cassandra King Conroy is known for, using compelling metaphors that are duly fit to describe the relationship between two career authors. The memoir contains recurring nautical motifs; Conroy compares Pat to a “category 5 hurricane,” and their whirlwind romance to a sudden storm—a perfect tribute to the waterside homes the couple shared during their marriage, and Pat's nickname, “Prince of Tides."
From the highest highs to the lowest lows, Conroy memorializes her late husband with some of the most intimate details of their life together. Her unflinching honesty about their family troubles and former failed relationships makes for a memoir that is both compelling and relatable for its readers. Though it’s clear she learned a lot about life and love during her time with Pat, she’ll be the first to admit that their relationship was far from perfect. Indeed, it was unpredictable, messy, and remarkably fun—a love that left her forever changed, that she generously shares with us through the pages of her memoir.
Cassandra will be in Chattanooga on December 5 as part of the South Bound Lecture Series, presented by Southern Lit Alliance. The event will be held at 6:00 p.m. at the GPS Frierson Theater. A VIP dinner with Cassandra will also be held after the event at Alleia restaurant and space is limited to 23 guests. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.southernlitalliance.org/cassandra-conroy-dec-5.