Frank Conroy was the director of the Iowa Writers Workshop for 18 years. He was also a writer himself, the author of 5 books, including the “classic memoir” Stop-Time. He died of colon cancer in 2005 at the age of 69.
“My faith in the firmness of time slips away gradually. I begin to believe that chronological time is an illusion and that some other principle organizes existence.”
Conroy was interested in time and memory. The title of his book on Nantucket, a place both he and I love, is Time & Tide. He begins this book with a preface, which recounts his earliest memory.
Stop-Time begins at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a brilliant one-page prologue from the point of view of the older speed-crazed Conroy, who would do “anything at all to keep up the speed, to maintain the speed and streak through the dark world.” We don’t see this older narrator except for a couple of other times in the memoir. Yet we keep him in the back of our mind as we move through his memories of his childhood.
Conroy’s writing is exact. Note these three examples from the memoir:
“My mother would make a quick meal out of cans.”
“Half to himself, his voice fading as we went around opposite sides of the car, he said…”
“My mother laughed nervously, not because she thought it was funny, but because her relationship with Donald forced her to laugh.”
Jayne Anne Phillips said, “He believed that the work leads the writer, and not the other way around. He used to say that in his own writing he’d read and re-read what he’d written the day before until he knew what to do next.”
Frank Conroy could also write beautiful sentences:
“A bewildering array of emotions exploded simultaneously–confusion, embarrassment, a kind of childish love, apprehensiveness, but behind it all, as steady as the solid bar of sunlight across the polished table, triumph. The moment was at hand.”