I finally had my great epic Summer Read, and I have to share. This book hit me over the head with ALL THE EMOTIONS. It holds all the features of my ideal story – set in the American South and New York City, an in-depth family saga with both plot heavy and character-driven story arcs, dark mysteries, characters grappling with issues of gender, class, marriage, education, good and evil, religion…it’s all there in this book. I laughed until my stomach hurt, I ugly-cried, I gasped out loud.
Intrigued? Let’s discuss this tome, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy was, and still is, a beloved writer of the South. I went to college at a school in South Carolina and often heard him mentioned as recommended reading. Mr. Conroy had quite the interesting life – growing up with an abusive father and military-brat upbringing, he settled in South Carolina and, after graduating from the Charleston military academy The Citadel, began teaching and, later, writing. His stories are very much influenced by the events in his early life. He is known for sweeping, epic stories, and The Prince of Tides is no exception.
The novel centers around the trials and tribulations of the Wingo family. The story is narrated by Tom Wingo, the younger son who is a failed Charleston football coach and is in the throes of his mid-life crisis. His marriage is on the rocks, he has no job prospects, and his poet twin sister up in NYC has tried to commit suicide…again. At the request of his sister’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lowenstein, Tom flies up to New York to try to help piece together the reason behind Savannah’s suicide attempts. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks and rotates between Tom’s childhood and his current outings in NYC, as he tries to work through his current life issues while also grappling with his family’s past on their isolated island off the coast of fictional Colleton.
This story has several episodes of violence, so trigger warning to y’all for abusive relationships, sexual assault, suicide, and generalized violence.
There’s also a lot of the typical Southern Gothic elements – gallows humor, superstition and religious overtones.
Peanut Gallery Opinion
This story had me riveted. I stayed up all hours of the night and woke up extra early in the mornings to finish this novel because I just had to know what would happen next to the seemingly-cursed Wingo family. And SO MUCH happens.
Despite the dark storyline, this book had me snorting with laughter in many places. Some of the times it was due to the impeccable one-liners Pat Conroy threw onto the page. Example: “The American male is a quivering mass of insecurities. If a woman makes the mistake of loving him, he will make her suffer terribly for her utter lack of taste.”
Other times, I was struck dumb by his profoundly and beautifully sad statements, like here: “I lived with the terrible knowledge that one day I would be an old man still waiting for my real life to start. Already, I pitied that old man.”
At times Conroy’s writing can get a bit schmaltzy and cheesy, but I blamed it on the fact that it was written in the 80’s and feels very much “of its time.” Most of the time, however, I was completely entranced.
There are also a few things that happen in the story that non-Southerners might find unrealistic or ridiculous (like their pet Bengal tiger or having a grandfather who drags a 7-foot cross around town every Good Friday). Let me tell you right here, as a small town Southerner: these things totally can and do occur down South. Trust me, this story is realistic.
For me, this book gets 1000% . It was the perfect book for me to read on a summer weekend. I recommend it to those of you who enjoy sweeping family sagas, particularly those with Gothic undertones and family mysteries.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Read with Me! Upcoming reviews:
“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, “Smoke” by Dan Vyleta