A brilliant novel that ultimately affirms life, hope and the belief that one's future need not be contaminated by a monstrous past.
A big sprawling saga of a novel, the kind Steinbeck used to write, the kind John Irving keeps writing, the kind you can hole up with and spend some days with and put down feeling that you've emerged from a terrible, wonderful spell.
San Francisco Chronicle
A masterpiece than can compare with Steinbeck's East Of Eden.... Some books make you laugh; some make you cry; some make you think. The Prince Of Tides is a rarity: It does all three.
Detroit Free Press
A literary gem.... The Prince of Tides is in the best tradition of novel writing. It is an engrossing story of unforgettable characters.
For sheer storytelling finesse, Conroy will have few rivals this season. His fourth novel is a seductive narrative, told with bravado flourishes, portentous foreshadowing, sardonic humor and eloquent turns of phrase. Like The Great Santini, it is the story of a destructive family relationship wherein a violent father abuses his wife and children. Henry Wingo is a shrimper who fishes the seas off the South Carolina coast and regularly squanders what little money he amasses in farcical business schemes; his beautiful wife, Lila, is both his victim and a manipulative and guilt-inflicting mother. The story is narrated by one of the children, Tom Wingo, a former high school teacher and coach, now out of work after a nervous breakdown. Tom alternately recalls his growing-up years on isolated Melrose Island, then switches to the present in Manhattan, where his twin sister and renowned poet, Savannah, is recovering from a suicide attempt. One secret at the heart of this tale is the fate of their older brother Luke; we know he is dead, but the circumstances are slowly revealed. Also kept veiled is "what happened on the island that day,'' a grisly scene of horror, rape and carnage that eventually explains much of the sorrow, pain and emotional alienation endured by the Wingo siblings. Conroy deftly manages a large cast of characters and a convoluted plot, although he dangerously undermines credibility through a device by which Tom tells the Wingo family saga to Savannah's psychiatrist. Some readers may find here a pale replica of Robert Penn Warren's powerful evocation of the Southern myth; others may see resemblances to John Irving's baroque imaginings. Most, however, will be swept along by Conroy's felicitous, often poetic prose, his ironic comments on the nature of man and society, his passion for the marshland country of the South and his skill with narrative.
Savannah Wingo, a successful feminist poet who has suffered from hallucinations and suicidal tendencies since childhood, has never been able to reconcile her life in New York with her early South Carolina tidewater heritage. Her suicide attempt brings her twin brother, Tom, to New York, where he spends the next few months, at the request of Savannah's psychiatrist, helping to reconstruct and analyze her early life. In beautifully contrasting memories which play childhood fears against the joys and wonders of being alive, Tom creates and communicates the all-consuming sense of family which is Savannah's major strength as a poet and her tragic flaw as a human being. Conroy has achieved a penetrating vision of the Southern psyche in this enormous novel of power and emotion. —Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
(Young Adult) In order to aid a psychiatrist who is treating his psychotic sister, Tom Wingo arrives in Manhattan and describes figures from his youth, among them an abusive father, a mother obsessed with being accepted by Colleton's tawdry elite, eccentric grandparents, stolid brother Luke, and sensitive, poet-sister Savannah. Despite the book's length, scenes such as Grandmother Tolitha's visit to Ogletree's funeral home to try out coffins, Grandfather's yearly re-enactment of the stations of the Cross, Mrs. Wingo's passive-aggressive retaliation by serving her husband dog food, Luke's Rambo-like attempt to keep Colleton from becoming a nuclear plant site, and a bloody football game with the team's first black player deserve students' attention. While Conroy's skills at characterization and storytelling have made the book popular, his writing style may place it among modern classics. He adds enough detail so that readers can smell the salty low-country marsh, see the regal porpoise Snow against the dark ocean, and taste Mrs. Wingo's gourmet cooking and doctored dog food. The story is wholly Tom's; Conroy resists the temptation to include the vantage points of other characters. It is the reluctance of Tom to tell all, to recount rather than recreate his family's past, and to face up to the Wingos' mutual rejections that maintain the tension just below the story's surface. It is Tom's coming clean about his past that lays bare the truth and elevates Prince of Tides above a scintillating best seller. —Alice Conlon, Univ. of Houston
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