New York: Open Road, 2010
My life as a PatConroy fan is complete, or at least up to date. I can now say I've read everything that the man has published. I've know about The Boo for some time, but I've never found a copy in a bookstore or library. I stumbled upon the book ebook on Kobo.com and decided to go for it. It's the first book Conroy published. He self-published it and the proceeds went into a gift fund for Citadel graduates killed in Vietnam.
The Boo, written in 1969, ten years before The Lords of Discipline, is a tribute to Lt. Colonel Thomas Nugent Courvoisie of The Citadel. The Boo is a nickname given to Courvoisie by a cadet. The Boo served The Citadel as Assistant Commandant of Cadets from 1961 to 1968 and later in a less glamorous position as the Supply and Property Officer. Courvoisie's demotion from his prominent position to working in supply was the impetus for Conroy's writing the tribute.
|1st edition cover|
Courvoisie entered The Citadel as a cadet in 1934 and was honorably discharged after three years. He returned in 1950 as a veteran student and graduated with the class of 1952. After his retirement from the Army in 1961, Courvoisie was appointed to the post of Assistant Commandant of Cadets. He became a favorite among the cadets, a man not to be trifled with but who had a knack for understanding the needs of young men enduring the rigors of military school. The cadets feared and loved him, but when newer leadership arrived at the school they wanted him gone. He was too popular, too well-loved, and threatened the less creative thinkers in "leadership" positions.
Conroy wrote The Boo to right a wrong, as he says, to try to get Courvoisie's job back, to show The Citadel the egregious nature of its mistake in demoting The Boo. In an introduction that he wrote for the second edition of the book, Conroy says that The Boo is The Lords of Discipline in embryo and that it "represents the best instincts of the boy I once was" (13). There's no doubt about that. You hear a young man with a profound sense of justice trying to understand abusive situations that defy reason.
The Citadel, founded in 1842, is also known as The Military College of South Carolina. Conroy writes in his preface that,
"The Citadel was very comfortable with the nineteenth century but has had some trouble adjusting to the twentieth. . . . The Citadel prides itself on being one of the last protectorates of right-wing conservatism in the country. Its proudest moment occurred when two cadets from the school fired a cannon at the Star of the West, a Union ship trying to relieve the Northern garrison in Fort Sumter. This was the opening shot of the War Between the States and The Citadel's transcendent moment of historical definition. The Citadel was occupied by Union troops after the War and was not allowed to reopen until 1882. It is still one of the last places in America where a Brooklyn boy can learn to become a southerner and where a southerner can learn to become a Confederate" (13).
|Conroy and The Boo in 2000|
Its writing things like the above and The Boo and The Lords of Discipline that has not endeared Conroy to The Citadel. Indeed, The Boo was banned at the college and Conroy's name was mud for decades, but the rift was mended in recent years. I read The Lords of Discipline while in high school 25+ years ago and saw the movie, too, and although I understood the repulsion toward the school and its traditions, I also felt the attraction. Conroy is a master at conveying the love-hate relationship, be it between a father and a son or an institution and an individual.
Some descriptions of The Boo make it sound like a novel or a bit of non-fiction narrative about one boy with an abusive father caught up in the drama of The Citadel who finds a tough mentor in Courvoisie, but it is not. The book is a collection of anecdotes and reports about cadet life along with some pleas for fathers to drop their anger and violence toward their sons and instead to give those sons the love they crave from their fathers. There's some Great Santini embryo cells in here, too.
Apparently there were thoughts of Conroy rewriting the book for the paperback edition--jazz it up, smooth it out--but he decided not to. He says, "I owe the boy who wrote this book the kindness of not condescending to the best he could do at that time. And it would take too long, and there are other things I want to write about now" (16). I like that about Conroy, that he respects who he was and is living in the present.
The Boo will be of interest to hardcore Conroy fans or those with an interest in the military in general or The Citadel in particular.