Pat Conroy's mammoth new novel "jumps onto your lap like a large shaggy dog that will do anything to get your attention," says TIME critic R.Z. Sheppard. "It's friendly but still has teeth." The author populates "Beach Music" (Doubleday; 628 pages; $27.50) with memorable characters, but unfortunately burdens them with the entire bloody history of the 20th century. "Attempts to relate the madness of Vietnam to Hitler's evil are loopy," says Sheppard, and so is some of Conroy's rhetoric. The Pat Conroy who wrote "The Water Is Wide" and "The Great Santini" is conspicuously absent here, leaving "Beach Music" as nothing more than what is certain to be this summer's best-selling snack.
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