Writers are innately complex. If they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t be writers, or at least not very good ones. Put two in a room, and stories get a lot more interesting. Michael Mewshaw, an acclaimed author, journalist and Key West resident, has recently published “The Lost Prince: a Search for Pat Conroy.” The book has the enviable narrative of opening up the personal lives of two writers and their complex and heart-wrenching friendship. Looking back, Mewshaw paints an honest portrait of his beloved friend Conroy, the literary giant, and describes a relationship that spanned decades, families, continents, famous people and bestselling novels. Mewshaw heeding his great friend’s advice: put it all in there.
He will be at Books & Books next week to discuss the book.
“Pat urged me to tell the story warts and all, and I wanted an accurate record of our recollections,” said Mewshaw. “But writing it doesn’t take the sting out of what went wrong.”
More by fate than happenstance, Mewshaw met Conroy while both expatriated to Rome for life abroad back in the ’80s. They were writers, family men and seasoned veterans of dysfunctional families who loved basketball, Italy and fiction. Mewshaw entered Conroy’s life on the eve of his trajectory to becoming an American icon and describes a man both endearing and monstrous.
While writing “The Prince of Tides” in Rome, Conroy asked Mewshaw to read the first 200 pages. Mewshaw honestly told him, “There is a war in all your books between autobiography and invention.” While that worked in fiction, when it came to Conroy’s actual life, especially with his family and friendships, Conroy used truth and fiction at his own discretion, often blurring the two, and in the end, it severed his friendship with Mewshaw until his death.
Conroy lived as he wrote, somewhere out of the bounds of normalcy, which made him equally mesmerizing and dangerous. The friends stayed close for many years, featuring each other in their novels in various ways, depending on the state of their friendship. “Both of us borrowed key phrases, anecdotes and incidents from the other” when they wrote, Mewshaw said. They spoke almost daily at times; Mewshaw and wife Linda are Susannah Conroy’s godparents. For Mewshaw, the friendship gave him great love and joy but ended in heartbreak when Conroy’s alcoholism and mental instability began to dominate the writer’s life in the late ’90s.
“Everybody loved Pat Conroy — except perhaps himself,” wrote Mewshaw. The book is as much about an inside look at one of America’s favorite authors as the price of closeness between two men of great talent with words. At Books & Books, 533 Eaton St., on Tuesday, Feb 26, learn more about Michael Mewshaw and his new book with discussion and book signing afterward.