• Laurel Contributor

This Joyful Marriage of Souls

by Luke Osteen

Most women, most writers, would find being married to a literary giant like Pat Conroy intimidating, even diminishing.

His life was large, his emotions were complex, and his passion for writing, for telling his stories, was unceasing.

So how does a woman keep her perspective, her sensibilities, when married to someone like that?

And how does a writer carve out her own style of storytelling while spending her days and nights beside the man who crafted “The Great Santini,” “The Water is Wide,” and the astonishing “The Prince of Tides?”

Novelist Cassandra King answers these questions with her deeply felt memoir, “Tell Me a Story,” a valentine to the man she loved and their all-too-brief 19 years together.

Through a storyteller’s alchemy, she creates a memoir that’s passionate and leavened with humor, yet poignant in its intimacy and the sure knowledge about the end that awaits this joyful marriage of souls. In fact, as I’m writing this, and flipping through “Tell Me a Story” for particular incidents, there are great tears running down my face. It hurts.

Yet there’s a sweetness to “Tell Me A Story” that somehow makes this bearable and even something to be treasured.

Prior to receiving the Advanced Reader’s Copy, I decided to don my literary detective’s deerstalker hat and see if I could deduce the secret of the extraordinary friendship at the heart of this story.

You don’t have to go very far into Conroy’s backlist to realize that, of course, there has to be a tiger in the tale.

I’m not talking about the tiger that makes an appearance in “The Prince of Tides.” No, this is about the writer himself. Throughout his canon, there’s the sense that there’s a tiger pacing just beyond the margins of the page. It’s restless, and hungry, and clearly bearing the wounds of a long ago fight. Its primal scent is imbedded upon the page and you feel a frisson of fear for yourself in reading something so raw, and for the writer who had no choice but to reveal it.

Cassandra’s works are of a different order. Even in her first novel, “Making Waves,” it’s clear that this is a woman who listens. Her characters are crafted with compassion and understanding, and even the “bad guys” are given a humanity that marks them as creations of a woman in tune with the complex turnings of the human heart.

And when you come to her 2016 novel “Moonrise,” set in a town suspiciously like Highlands, and you’re as close to a Gothic romance as we’re likely to get in the 21st Century, you realize that though this writer’s works are primarily set in the sunny, drowsy South, this is a woman who understands darkness.

That’s when it clicks.

She understood this man and he reveled in her presence, in the simple benison of love poured out upon him. It’s as clear an anatomization of marriage as I’ve ever seen. And it comes through pure and sweet in every chapter of “Tell Me a Story.”

What a revelation!

And It’s all confirmed and explained by Cassandra King’s loving “Tell Me a Story.”

The Laurel Magazine

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