Saturday, December 17, 2005

My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:

My fourth reading selection here in Haiti is the appropriately named “My Losing Season,” an autobiographical tale of the author’s last year playing varsity basketball at that citadel of tolerance and gentleness, The Citadel. This is a good read for when you’re in a bad mood, because pages of the book share this sentiment, especially the parts about Conroy’s physically and emotionally vicious dad and his only emotionally vicious college coach (unless you count running the suicide drill physical abuse).

Conroy was the most valuable player his senior year, the season his team went 8-17. Talent-wise, his teammates ranked him 11th of the 12 players, which may tell you something about the book and the team. Despite the lack of success, Conroy made me feel his love for basketball and how it rescued him from an abusive, peripatetic childhood.

By the way, one of Conroy’s teammates, Greg Connor, did his residency at OSF. He’s a few years older than John. When John was working as an orderly at the hospital, Connor used to page him and ask of the popular pickup games that go on all over Peoria, “We’re playing tonight, right?”

Conroy’s writing style is opposite of Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner: complex, loquacious, and full of bright similes and metaphors. Here are a couple of examples: Of Hell Night, the Citadel’s initiation into the life of the college, “It was a night that my own soul felt like an acre of Omaha Beach on D-Day.” I think that about conveys the harshness of it.

He comes up with numerous ways to describe the swish: “His shot would soar toward the rafters, go higher than any jump shot I had ever seen back spinning beautifully, until the laws of gravity brought the ball rippling through the net with that sweetness of sound—the swish, like a flower inhaling grass.”

I could feel Conroy’s ambition, which he almost always writes up to, and hear his first born male’s voice, personal and moody. My sister-in-law Diane lists Conroy’s “Beach Music” as one of her favorite books and it’s one I am going to read when I return to the developed world.

I checked out “My Losing Season” from the Lakeview Library, but I’m going to buy a copy and, as a writer’s exercise, underline all Conroy’s descriptive turns of phrases. The book will be marked up.

We don’t see a lot of reading going on in Haiti. John remarked that when he opens the office door at the clinic to call the next patient, “I see all these moms sitting, there and none of them are reading. It’s sad.” Not that there are racks of magazines on the waiting room walls; even if there were for lack of literacy, they would go unread.

I used to think John was exaggerating about the classes for new Haitian immigrants that were held in Little Haiti, a neighborhood in Miami. “The teachers would try to teach them to make circles, squares, and triangles, and the Haitians were awful at it.” How could adults not be able to do what kindergarteners are capable of?

Then, this summer, we brought Frandy and his mother to St. Louis for medical treatment. Frandy can read and write and speaks English, but his mother has had little education. The hospital wanted her to sign a consent, and said it was fine for her to make an X. She kept trying to hand the pen to Frandy, but we insisted that she had to put her mark on the paper. She grasped the pen, as awkwardly as I would a pair of knitting needles, and she put one little line on the paper and tried valiantly to cross it with another little line. It was hardly what you’d call an X, but we counted it.

Frandy’s mom is not dumb; living in her world, we would be completely reliant on her skills—going to market, cooking over a fire, keeping their little cement house as clean as possible, getting along without electricity. But what seems natural to us is the result of years of schooling, which she hasn’t had the advantage of. She can haul water like you wouldn’t believe though, and has the biceps to prove it.

If the Haitian women in the waiting room could read, they could probably appreciate like few others the notion of being losers among winners. As Conroy writes, “Loss is a fiercer, more uncompromising teacher, coldhearted but clear-eyed in its understanding that life is more dilemma than game, and more trial than free pass.”


starbender said...

“Loss is a fiercer, more uncompromising teacher, coldhearted but clear-eyed in its understanding that life is more dilemma than game, and more trial than free pass.”

I like that!

Maria Carroll said...

Thanks for visiting.