In The Lost Prince: A Search for Pat Conroy (Counterpoint, Mar.), Mewshaw explores a close but fraught bond with the late author of The Great Santini.
How did you come up with the title?
The title alludes to The Prince of Tides, and to Pat and how he was lost to me after our falling out. As he grew more famous, he also seemed increasingly lost to himself. I wanted to show how he was at the beginning.
Before his death, Pat asked you to write this book. Do you think you would have written it without his urging?
I doubt it. Even after Pat extended me a written invitation, there were Conroy friends and family members who refused to be interviewed for the book. I feared pushback from his fans and perhaps some critics. But it gave me confidence to go on knowing I had not just Pat’s permission but his encouragement.
What do you feel distinguished your friendship with Pat from other relationships?
I’ve never known anyone, even in my family, with whom I had so much in common. Irish Catholics from homes troubled by alcoholism and abuse, we survived our childhoods through basketball and a love of books. It emerged that during [Conroy’s] father’s Marine Corps deployment at the Pentagon, my stepfather, who ran the Anacostia Naval Receiving Station laundry, washed the Conroy family’s clothes. As Pat put it, “Connections don’t come much more intimate than that.”
You don’t sugarcoat Pat’s or your own flaws. How important and how difficult was it to look that deeply?
At the end of his life, Pat publicly declared that he wanted to be remembered and written about “warts and all.” He insisted his life was an open book, and that his archive at the University of South Carolina should be accessible to all. Rather than make the memoirist’s and biographer’s task easier, this required a delicate balancing of my deep affection for Pat with an obligation to be candid about what I discovered in my research. Of all my books, this one was by far the most painful to complete.
Our review called the book a love story. Would you agree with that?
Yes, The Lost Prince is a love story. But like a lot of the most moving ones, it doesn’t have an entirely happy ending. Ours burned bright for 14 years. Then the embers smoldered for the next 20 years. What made Pat’s absence bearable and prevented me from giving up was the role he allowed me to play in his reconciliation with his daughter Susannah. Through her, my goddaughter, the love story lives on.