The Prince of Tides

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Overview

Pat Conroy has created a huge, brash thunderstorm of a novel, stinging with honesty and resounding with drama.

Spanning forty years, this is the story of turbulent Tom Wingo, his gifted and troubled twin sister, Savannah, and the dark and violent past of the extraordinary family to which they were born.

Filled with the vanishing beauty of ...
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The Prince of Tides

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Overview

Pat Conroy has created a huge, brash thunderstorm of a novel, stinging with honesty and resounding with drama.

Spanning forty years, this is the story of turbulent Tom Wingo, his gifted and troubled twin sister, Savannah, and the dark and violent past of the extraordinary family to which they were born.

Filled with the vanishing beauty of the South Carolina lowcountry as well as the dusty glitter of New York City, The Prince Of Tides is Pat Conroy's most magnificent novel yet.

Spanning 40 years, this is the story of turbulent Tom Wingo, his gifted and troubled twin sister Savannah, and the dark and violent past of the extraordinary family into which they were born.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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. 250,000 first printing; $250,000 ad/promo; movie rights to United Artists; BOMC main selection; author tour. October 21
Library Journal
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. BOMC main selection.Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
School Library Journal
YA 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
From the Publisher
“Reading PAT CONROY is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.”
Houston Chronicle

“A big, sprawling saga of a novel . . . the kind you hole up with and spend some days with and put down feeling you have emerged from a terrible, wonderful spell.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“A masterpiece.”
Detroit Free Press

“This is a powerful book. . . . CONROY is a master of language.”
The Atlanta Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553268881
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1987
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 688
  • Sales rank: 93,677
  • Lexile: 940L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.22 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Pat Conroy is the bestselling author of The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Pat Conroy Cookbook, My Losing Season, and South of Broad. He lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina.

Biography

Pat Conroy was born on October 26, 1945, in Atlanta, Georgia, to a young career military officer from Chicago and a Southern beauty from Alabama, whom Pat often credits for his love of language. He was the first of seven children.

His father was a violent and abusive man, a man whose biggest mistake, Conroy once said, was allowing a novelist to grow up in his home, a novelist "who remembered every single violent act... my father's violence is the central fact of my art and my life." Since the family had to move many times to different military bases around the South, Pat changed schools frequently, finally attending the Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, upon his father's insistence. While still a student, he wrote and then published his first book, The Boo, a tribute to a beloved teacher.

After graduation, Conroy taught English in Beaufort, where he met and married a young woman with two children, a widow of the Vietnam War. He then accepted a job teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, a remote island off the South Carolina shore. After a year, Pat was fired for his unconventional teaching practices -- such as his unwillingness to allow corporal punishment of his students -- and for his general lack of respect for the school's administration. Conroy evened the score when he exposed the racism and appalling conditions his students endured with the publication of The Water is Wide in 1972. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was made into the feature film Conrack, starring Jon Voight.

Following the birth of a daughter, the Conroys moved to Atlanta, where Pat wrote his novel, The Great Santini, published in 1976. This autobiographical work, later made into a powerful film starring Robert Duvall, explored the conflicts of his childhood, particularly his confusion over his love and loyalty to an abusive and often dangerous father.

The publication of a book that so painfully exposed his family's secret brought Conroy to a period of tremendous personal desolation. This crisis resulted not only in his divorce but the divorce of his parents; his mother presented a copy of The Great Santini to the judge as "evidence" in divorce proceedings against his father.

The Citadel became the subject of his next novel, The Lords of Discipline, published in 1980. The novel exposed the school's harsh military discipline, racism and sexism. This book, too, was made into a feature film.

Pat remarried and moved from Atlanta to Rome where he began The Prince of Tides which, when published in 1986, became his most successful book. Reviewers immediately acknowledged Conroy as a master storyteller and a poetic and gifted prose stylist. This novel has become one of the most beloved novels of modern time—with over five million copies in print, it has earned Conroy an international reputation. The Prince of Tides was made into a highly successful feature film directed by Barbra Streisand, who also starred in the film opposite Nick Nolte, whose brilliant performance won him an Oscar nomination.

Beach Music (1995), Conroy's sixth book, was the story of Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife's suicidal leap off a bridge in South Carolina. The story took place in South Carolina and Rome, and also reached back in time to the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. This book, too, was a tremendous international bestseller.

While on tour for Beach Music, members of Conroy's Citadel basketball team began appearing, one by one, at his book signings around the country. When his then-wife served him divorce papers while he was still on the road, Conroy realized that his team members had come back into his life just when he needed them most. And so he began reconstructing his senior year, his last year as an athlete, and the 21 basketball games that changed his life. The result of these recollections, along with flashbacks of his childhood and insights into his early aspirations as a writer, is My Losing Season, Conroy's seventh book and his first work of nonfiction since The Water is Wide.

He currently lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina with his wife, the novelist Cassandra King.

Author biography courtesy of Pat Conroy's official web site.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Donald Patrick Conroy (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      San Francisco and South Carolina
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 26, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Atlanta, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.A.,The Citadel, 1967

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was five o'clock in the afternoon Eastern Standard Time when the telephone rang in my house on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. My wife, Sallie, and I had just sat down for a drink on the porch overlooking Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic. Sallie went in to answer the telephone and I shouted, "Whoever it is, I'm not here."

"It's your mother," Sallie said, returning from the phone.

"Tell her I'm dead," I pleaded. "Please tell her I died last week and you've been too busy to call."

"Please speak to her. She says it's urgent."

"She always says it's urgent. It's never urgent when she says it's urgent."

"I think it's urgent this time. She's crying."

"When Mom cries, it's normal. I can't remember a day when she hasn't been crying."

"She's waiting, Tom."

As I rose to go to the phone, my wife said, "Be nice, Tom. You're never very nice when you talk to your mother."

"I hate my mother, Sallie," I explained. "Why do you try to kill the small pleasures I have in my life?"

"Just listen to Sallie and be very nice."

"If she says she wants to come over tonight, I'm going to divorce you, Sallie. Nothing personal, but it's you who's making me answer the phone."

"Hello, Mother dear," I said cheerfully into the receiver, knowing that my insincere bravado never fooled my mother.

"I've got some very bad news, Tom," my mother said.

"Since when did our family produce anything else, Mom?"

"This is verybad news. Tragic news."

"I can't wait to hear it."

"I don't want to tell you on the phone. May I come over?"

"If you want to."

"I want to only if you want me to come."

"You said you wanted to come. I didn't say I wanted you to come."

"Why do you want to hurt me at a time like this?"

"Mom, I don't know what kind of a time it is. You haven't told me what's wrong. I don't want to hurt you. Come on over and we can bare our fangs at each other for a little while."

I hung up the phone and screamed out at the top of my lungs, "Divorce!"

Waiting for my mother, I watched as my three daughters gathered shells on the beach in front of the house. They were ten, nine, and seven, two brown-haired girls divided by one blonde, and their ages and size and beauty always startled me; I could measure my own diminishment with their sunny ripening. You could believe in the birth of goddesses by watching the wind catch their hair and their small brown hands make sweet simultaneous gestures to brush the hair out of their eyes as their laughter broke with the surf. Jennifer called to the other two as she lifted a conch shell up to the light. I stood and walked over to the railing where I saw a neighbor who had stopped to talk to the girls.

"Mr. Brighton," I called, "could you make sure the girls are not smoking dope on the beach again?"

The girls looked up and, waving goodbye to Mr. Brighton, ran through the dunes and sea oats up to the house. They deposited their collection of shells on the table where my drink sat.

"Dad," Jennifer, the oldest, said, "you're always embarrassing us in front of people."

"We found a conch, Dad," Chandler, the youngest, squealed. "He's alive."

"It is alive," I said, turning the shell over. "We can have it for dinner tonight."

"Oh, gross, Dad," Lucy said. "Great meal. Conch."

"No," the smallest girl said. "I'll take it back to the beach and put it in the water. Think how scared that conch is hearing you say you want to eat him."

"Oh, Chandler," said Jennifer. "That's so ridiculous. Conchs don't speak English."

"How do you know, Jennifer?" Lucy challenged. "You don't know everything. You're not the queen of the whole world."

"Yeah," I agreed. "You're not the queen of the whole world."

"I wish I had two brothers," Jennifer said.

"And we wish we had an older brother," Lucy answered in the lovely fury of the blonde.

"Are you going to kill that ugly ol' conch, Dad?" Jennifer asked.

"Chandler will be mad."

"No, I'll take it back down to the beach. I can't take it when Chandler calls me a murderer. Everyone into Daddy's lap."

The three girls halfheartedly arranged their lovely, perfectly shaped behinds on my thighs and knees and I kissed each one of them on the throat and the nape of the neck.

"This is the last year we're going to be able to do this, girls. You're getting huge."

"Huge? I'm certainly not getting huge, Dad," Jennifer corrected.

"Call me Daddy."

"Only babies call their fathers Daddy."

"Then I'm not going to call you Daddy either," Chandler said.

"I like being called Daddy. It makes me feel adored. Girls, I want to ask you a question and I want you to answer with brutal honesty. Don't spare Daddy's feelings, just tell me what you think from the heart."

Jennifer rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, Dad, not this game again."

I said, "Who is the greatest human being you've encountered on this earth?"

"Mama," Lucy answered quickly, grinning at her father.

"Almost right," I replied. "Now let's try it again. Think of the most splendid, wonderful person you personally know. The answer should spring to your lips."

"You!" Chandler shouted.

"An angel. A pure, snow-white angel, and so smart. What do you want, Chandler? Money? Jewels? Furs? Stocks and bonds? Ask anything, darling, and your loving Daddy will get it for you."

"I don't want you to kill the conch."

"Kill the conch! I'm going to send this conch to college, set it up in business."

"Dad," Jennifer said, "we're getting too old for you to tease us like this. You're starting to embarrass us around our friends."

"Like whom?"

"Johnny."

"That gum-snapping, pimple-popping, slack-jawed little cretin?"

"He's my boyfriend," Jennifer said proudly.

"He's a creep, Jennifer," Lucy added.

"He's a lot better than that midget you call a boyfriend," Jennifer shot back.

"I've warned you about boys, girls. They're all disgusting, filthy-minded, savage little reprobates who do nasty things like pee on bushes and pick their noses."

"You were a little boy once," Lucy said.

"Ha! Can you imagine Dad as a little boy?" Jennifer said. "What a laugh."

"I was different. I was a prince. A moonbeam. But I'm not going to interfere with your love life, Jennifer. You know me, I'm not going to be one of those tiresome fathers who're never satisfied with guys his daughters bring home. I'm not going to interfere. It's your choice and your life. You can marry anyone you want to, girls, as soon as y'all finish medical school."

"I don't want to go to medical school," said Lucy. "Do you know that Mama has to put her fingers up people's behinds? I want to be a poet, like Savannah."

"Ah, marriage after your first book of poems is published. I'll compromise. I'm not a hard man."

"I can get married anytime I want to," Lucy said stubbornly. "I won't have to ask your permission. I'll be a grown-up woman."

"That's the spirit, Lucy," I applauded. "Don't listen to a thing your parents say. That's the only rule of life I want you to be sure and follow."

"You don't mean that. You're just talking, Daddy," Chandler said, leaning her head back under my chin. "I mean Dad," she corrected herself.

"Remember what I told you. Nobody told me this kind of stuff when I was a kid," I said seriously, "but parents were put on earth for the sole purpose of making their children miserable. It's one of God's most important laws. Now listen to me. Your job is to make me and Mama believe that you're doing and thinking everything we want you to. But you're really not. You're thinking your own thoughts and going out on secret missions. Because Mama and I are screwing you up."

"How are you screwing us up?" Jennifer asked.

"He embarrasses us in front of our friends," Lucy suggested.

"I do not. But I know we're screwing you up a little bit every day. If we knew how we were doing it, we'd stop. We wouldn't do it ever again, because we adore you. But we're parents and we can't help it. It's our job to screw you up. Do you understand?"

"No," they agreed in a simultaneous chorus.

"Good," I said, taking a sip of my drink. "You're not supposed to understand us. We're your enemies. You're supposed to wage guerrilla warfare against us."

"We're not gorillas," Lucy said primly. "We're little girls."

Sallie returned to the porch, wearing an off-white sundress and sandals to match. Her long legs were tanned and pretty.

"Did I interrupt the complete lectures of Dr. Spock?" she said, smiling at the children.

"Dad told us we were gorillas," explained Chandler, removing herself from my lap and mounting her mother's.

"I cleaned up some for your mother," Sallie said, lighting a cigarette.

"You'll die of cancer if you keep smoking that, Mama," Jennifer said. "You'll choke on your own blood. We learned that at school."

"No more school for you," Sallie said, exhaling.

"Why'd you clean up?" I asked.

"Because I hate the way she looks at my house when she comes over. She always looks like she wants to innoculate the children for typhus when she sees the mess in the kitchen."

"She's just jealous that you're a doctor and she peaked out after winning a spelling bee in third grade. So you don't need to clean up everytime she comes over to spread plague. You just need to burn the furniture and spray with disinfectant when she leaves."

"You're a bit hard on your mother, Tom. She's trying to be a good mother again, in her own way," Sallie said, studying Chandler's hair.

Jennifer said, "Why don't you like Grandma, Dad?"

"Who says I don't like Grandma?"

Lucy added, "Yeah, Dad, why do you always scream out 'I'm not here' when she calls on the phone?"

"It's a protective device, sweetheart. Do you know how a blowfish puffs up when there's danger? Well, it's the same thing when Grandma calls. I puff up and shout that I'm not here. It would work great except that your mother always betrays me."

"Why don't you want her to know you're here, Daddy?" Chandler asked.

"Because then I have to talk to her. And when I talk to her it reminds me of being a child and I hated my childhood. I'd rather have been a blowfish."

Lucy asked, "Will we shout 'I'm not here' when you call us when we're all grown up?"

"Of course," I said with more vehemence than I intended. "Because then I'll be making you feel bad by saying, 'Why don't I ever see you, dear?' or 'Have I done something wrong, darling?' or 'My birthday was last Thursday,' or 'I'm having a heart transplant next Tuesday. I'm sure you don't care,' or 'Could you at least come over and dust off the iron lung?' After you grow up and leave me, kids, my only duty in the world will be to make you feel guilty. I'll try to ruin your lives."

"Dad thinks he knows everything," Lucy said to Sallie, and two cooler heads nodded in agreement.

"What's this? Criticism from my own children? My own flesh and blood noticing flaws in my character? I can stand anything but criticism, Lucy."

"All our friends think Dad is crazy, Mama," Jennifer added. "You act like a mom is supposed to act. Dad doesn't act like other dads."

"Here it is. That dreaded moment when my children turn on me and rip my guts out. If this were Russia, they'd turn me in to the Communist authorities and I'd be in a Siberian salt mine, freezing my ass off."

"He said a bad word, Mama," Lucy said.

"Yes, dear. I heard."

"Grass," I said quickly. "The grass needs cutting."

"The grass always needs cutting when he says that word," Jennifer explained.

"At this very moment my mother is crossing the Shem Creek bridge. No birds sing on the planet when my mother is on her way."

"Just try to be nice, Tom," Sallie said in her maddening professional voice. "Don't let her get under your skin."

I groaned, drinking deeply. "My God, I wonder what she wants. She only comes here when she can ruin my life in some small way. She's a tactician of the ruined life. She could give seminars on the subject. She said she has some bad news. When my family has bad news, it's always something grisly, Biblical, lifted straight out of the Book of Job."

"At least admit your mother's trying to be your friend again."

"I admit it. She is trying," I said wearily. "I liked her better when she wasn't trying, when she was an unrepentant monster."

"What's for dinner tonight, Tom?" Sallie asked, changing the subject. "Something smells wonderful."

"That's fresh bread. I caught flounder off the rocks early this morning, so I stuffed them with crabmeat and shrimp. There's a fresh spinach salad plus sauteed zucchini and shallots."

"Wonderful," she said. "I shouldn't be drinking this. I'm on call tonight."

"I'd rather have fried chicken," Lucy said. "Let's go out to Colonel Sanders."

"Why do you cook anyway, Dad?" Jennifer asked suddenly. "Mr. Brighton laughs when he talks about your cooking dinner for Mama."

"Yeah," Lucy added, "he says it's because Mama makes twice as much money as you do."

"That rotten bastard," Sallie whispered between clenched teeth.

"That's not true," I said. "I do it because Mama makes four or five times more money than I do."

"Remember, girls, it was Daddy who put me through medical school. And don't hurt your father's feelings like that again, Lucy," Sallie warned. "You don't have to repeat everything Mr. Brighton says. Your father and I try to share the household chores."

"All the other mommies I know cook for their family," Jennifer said boldly, considering the bitter look that had entered Sallie's gray eyes. "Except you."

"I told you, Sallie," I said, studying Jennifer's hair. "If you raise children in the South, you produce southerners. And a southerner is one of God's natural fools."

"We're southern and we're not fools," said Sallie.

"Aberrations, dear. It happens once or twice every generation."

"Girls, go on upstairs and wash up. Lila is going to be here soon."

"Why doesn't she like us to call her Grandma?" Lucy asked.

"Because it makes her feel old. Run along now," Sallie said, moving the girls inside the house.

When she returned, Sallie leaned down and brushed her lips on my forehead. "I'm sorry Lucy said that. She's so goddamn conventional."

"It doesn't bother me, Sallie, I swear it doesn't. You know I adore the role of martyrdom—how I blossom in an atmosphere of self-pity. Poor nutless Tom Wingo, polishing the silver while his wife discovers a cure for cancer. Sad Tom Wingo making the perfect souffle while his wife knocks down a hundred grand a year. We knew this would happen, Sallie. We talked about it."


From the Audio Cassette edition.

Copyright 2002 by Pat Conroy
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Chapter One

It was five o'clock in the afternoon Eastern Standard Time when the telephone rang in my house on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. My wife, Sallie, and I had just sat down for a drink on the porch overlooking Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic. Sallie went in to answer the telephone and I shouted, "Whoever it is, I'm not here."

"It's your mother," Sallie said, returning from the phone.

"Tell her I'm dead," I pleaded. "Please tell her I died last week and you've been too busy to call."

"Please speak to her. She says it's urgent."

"She always says it's urgent. It's never urgent when she says it's urgent."

"I think it's urgent this time. She's crying."

"When Mom cries, it's normal. I can't remember a day when she hasn't been crying."

"She's waiting, Tom."

As I rose to go to the phone, my wife said, "Be nice, Tom. You're never very nice when you talk to your mother."

"I hate my mother, Sallie," I explained. "Why do you try to kill the small pleasures I have in my life?"

"Just listen to Sallie and be very nice."

"If she says she wants to come over tonight, I'm going to divorce you, Sallie. Nothing personal, but it's you who's making me answer the phone."

"Hello, Mother dear," I said cheerfully into the receiver, knowing that my insincere bravado never fooled my mother.

"I've got some very bad news, Tom," my mother said.

"Since when did our family produce anything else, Mom?"

"This is very bad news. Tragic news."

"I can't wait to hear it."

"I don't want to tell you on the phone. May I come over?"

"If you want to."

"I want to only ifyou want me to come."

"You said you wanted to come. I didn't say I wanted you to come."

"Why do you want to hurt me at a time like this?"

"Mom, I don't know what kind of a time it is. You haven't told me what's wrong. I don't want to hurt you. Come on over and we can bare our fangs at each other for a little while."

I hung up the phone and screamed out at the top of my lungs, "Divorce!"

Waiting for my mother, I watched as my three daughters gathered shells on the beach in front of the house. They were ten, nine, and seven, two brown-haired girls divided by one blonde, and their ages and size and beauty always startled me; I could measure my own diminishment with their sunny ripening. You could believe in the birth of goddesses by watching the wind catch their hair and their small brown hands make sweet simultaneous gestures to brush the hair out of their eyes as their laughter broke with the surf. Jennifer called to the other two as she lifted a conch shell up to the light. I stood and walked over to the railing where I saw a neighbor who had stopped to talk to the girls.

"Mr. Brighton," I called, "could you make sure the girls are not smoking dope on the beach again?"

The girls looked up and, waving goodbye to Mr. Brighton, ran through the dunes and sea oats up to the house. They deposited their collection of shells on the table where my drink sat.

"Dad," Jennifer, the oldest, said, "you're always embarrassing us in front of people."

"We found a conch, Dad," Chandler, the youngest, squealed. "He's alive."

"It is alive," I said, turning the shell over. "We can have it for dinner tonight."

"Oh, gross, Dad," Lucy said. "Great meal. Conch."

"No," the smallest girl said. "I'll take it back to the beach and put it in the water. Think how scared that conch is hearing you say you want to eat him."

"Oh, Chandler," said Jennifer. "That's so ridiculous. Conchs don't speak English."

"How do you know, Jennifer?" Lucy challenged. "You don't know everything. You're not the queen of the whole world."

"Yeah," I agreed. "You're not the queen of the whole world."

"I wish I had two brothers," Jennifer said.

"And we wish we had an older brother," Lucy answered in the lovely fury of the blonde.

"Are you going to kill that ugly ol' conch, Dad?" Jennifer asked.

"Chandler will be mad."

"No, I'll take it back down to the beach. I can't take it when Chandler calls me a murderer. Everyone into Daddy's lap."

The three girls halfheartedly arranged their lovely, perfectly shaped behinds on my thighs and knees and I kissed each one of them on the throat and the nape of the neck.

"This is the last year we're going to be able to do this, girls. You're getting huge."

"Huge? I'm certainly not getting huge, Dad," Jennifer corrected.

"Call me Daddy."

"Only babies call their fathers Daddy."

"Then I'm not going to call you Daddy either," Chandler said.

"I like being called Daddy. It makes me feel adored. Girls, I want to ask you a question and I want you to answer with brutal honesty. Don't spare Daddy's feelings, just tell me what you think from the heart."

Jennifer rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, Dad, not this game again."

I said, "Who is the greatest human being you've encountered on this earth?"

"Mama," Lucy answered quickly, grinning at her father.

"Almost right," I replied. "Now let's try it again. Think of the most splendid, wonderful person you personally know. The answer should spring to your lips."

"You!" Chandler shouted.

"An angel. A pure, snow-white angel, and so smart. What do you want, Chandler? Money? Jewels? Furs? Stocks and bonds? Ask anything, darling, and your loving Daddy will get it for you."

"I don't want you to kill the conch."

"Kill the conch! I'm going to send this conch to college, set it up in business."

"Dad," Jennifer said, "we're getting too old for you to tease us like this. You're starting to embarrass us around our friends."

"Like whom?"

"Johnny."

"That gum-snapping, pimple-popping, slack-jawed little cretin?"

"He's my boyfriend," Jennifer said proudly.

"He's a creep, Jennifer," Lucy added.

"He's a lot better than that midget you call a boyfriend," Jennifer shot back.

"I've warned you about boys, girls. They're all disgusting, filthy-minded, savage little reprobates who do nasty things like pee on bushes and pick their noses."

"You were a little boy once," Lucy said.

"Ha! Can you imagine Dad as a little boy?" Jennifer said. "What a laugh."

"I was different. I was a prince. A moonbeam. But I'm not going to interfere with your love life, Jennifer. You know me, I'm not going to be one of those tiresome fathers who're never satisfied with guys his daughters bring home. I'm not going to interfere. It's your choice and your life. You can marry anyone you want to, girls, as soon as y'all finish medical school."

"I don't want to go to medical school," said Lucy. "Do you know that Mama has to put her fingers up people's behinds? I want to be a poet, like Savannah."

"Ah, marriage after your first book of poems is published. I'll compromise. I'm not a hard man."

"I can get married anytime I want to," Lucy said stubbornly. "I won't have to ask your permission. I'll be a grown-up woman."

"That's the spirit, Lucy," I applauded. "Don't listen to a thing your parents say. That's the only rule of life I want you to be sure and follow."

"You don't mean that. You're just talking, Daddy," Chandler said, leaning her head back under my chin. "I mean Dad," she corrected herself.

"Remember what I told you. Nobody told me this kind of stuff when I was a kid," I said seriously, "but parents were put on earth for the sole purpose of making their children miserable. It's one of God's most important laws. Now listen to me. Your job is to make me and Mama believe that you're doing and thinking everything we want you to. But you're really not. You're thinking your own thoughts and going out on secret missions. Because Mama and I are screwing you up."

"How are you screwing us up?" Jennifer asked.

"He embarrasses us in front of our friends," Lucy suggested.

"I do not. But I know we're screwing you up a little bit every day. If we knew how we were doing it, we'd stop. We wouldn't do it ever again, because we adore you. But we're parents and we can't help it. It's our job to screw you up. Do you understand?"

"No," they agreed in a simultaneous chorus.

"Good," I said, taking a sip of my drink. "You're not supposed to understand us. We're your enemies. You're supposed to wage guerrilla warfare against us."

"We're not gorillas," Lucy said primly. "We're little girls."

Sallie returned to the porch, wearing an off-white sundress and sandals to match. Her long legs were tanned and pretty.

"Did I interrupt the complete lectures of Dr. Spock?" she said, smiling at the children.

"Dad told us we were gorillas," explained Chandler, removing herself from my lap and mounting her mother's.

"I cleaned up some for your mother," Sallie said, lighting a cigarette.

"You'll die of cancer if you keep smoking that, Mama," Jennifer said. "You'll choke on your own blood. We learned that at school."

"No more school for you," Sallie said, exhaling.

"Why'd you clean up?" I asked.

"Because I hate the way she looks at my house when she comes over. She always looks like she wants to innoculate the children for typhus when she sees the mess in the kitchen."

"She's just jealous that you're a doctor and she peaked out after winning a spelling bee in third grade. So you don't need to clean up everytime she comes over to spread plague. You just need to burn the furniture and spray with disinfectant when she leaves."

"You're a bit hard on your mother, Tom. She's trying to be a good mother again, in her own way," Sallie said, studying Chandler's hair.

Jennifer said, "Why don't you like Grandma, Dad?"

"Who says I don't like Grandma?"

Lucy added, "Yeah, Dad, why do you always scream out 'I'm not here' when she calls on the phone?"

"It's a protective device, sweetheart. Do you know how a blowfish puffs up when there's danger? Well, it's the same thing when Grandma calls. I puff up and shout that I'm not here. It would work great except that your mother always betrays me."

"Why don't you want her to know you're here, Daddy?" Chandler asked.

"Because then I have to talk to her. And when I talk to her it reminds me of being a child and I hated my childhood. I'd rather have been a blowfish."

Lucy asked, "Will we shout 'I'm not here' when you call us when we're all grown up?"

"Of course," I said with more vehemence than I intended. "Because then I'll be making you feel bad by saying, 'Why don't I ever see you, dear?' or 'Have I done something wrong, darling?' or 'My birthday was last Thursday,' or 'I'm having a heart transplant next Tuesday. I'm sure you don't care,' or 'Could you at least come over and dust off the iron lung?' After you grow up and leave me, kids, my only duty in the world will be to make you feel guilty. I'll try to ruin your lives."

"Dad thinks he knows everything," Lucy said to Sallie, and two cooler heads nodded in agreement.

"What's this? Criticism from my own children? My own flesh and blood noticing flaws in my character? I can stand anything but criticism, Lucy."

"All our friends think Dad is crazy, Mama," Jennifer added. "You act like a mom is supposed to act. Dad doesn't act like other dads."

"Here it is. That dreaded moment when my children turn on me and rip my guts out. If this were Russia, they'd turn me in to the Communist authorities and I'd be in a Siberian salt mine, freezing my ass off."

"He said a bad word, Mama," Lucy said.

"Yes, dear. I heard."

"Grass," I said quickly. "The grass needs cutting."

"The grass always needs cutting when he says that word," Jennifer explained.

"At this very moment my mother is crossing the Shem Creek bridge. No birds sing on the planet when my mother is on her way."

"Just try to be nice, Tom," Sallie said in her maddening professional voice. "Don't let her get under your skin."

I groaned, drinking deeply. "My God, I wonder what she wants. She only comes here when she can ruin my life in some small way. She's a tactician of the ruined life. She could give seminars on the subject. She said she has some bad news. When my family has bad news, it's always something grisly, Biblical, lifted straight out of the Book of Job."

"At least admit your mother's trying to be your friend again."

"I admit it. She is trying," I said wearily. "I liked her better when she wasn't trying, when she was an unrepentant monster."

"What's for dinner tonight, Tom?" Sallie asked, changing the subject. "Something smells wonderful."

"That's fresh bread. I caught flounder off the rocks early this morning, so I stuffed them with crabmeat and shrimp. There's a fresh spinach salad plus sauteed zucchini and shallots."

"Wonderful," she said. "I shouldn't be drinking this. I'm on call tonight."

"I'd rather have fried chicken," Lucy said. "Let's go out to Colonel Sanders."

"Why do you cook anyway, Dad?" Jennifer asked suddenly. "Mr. Brighton laughs when he talks about your cooking dinner for Mama."

"Yeah," Lucy added, "he says it's because Mama makes twice as much money as you do."

"That rotten bastard," Sallie whispered between clenched teeth.

"That's not true," I said. "I do it because Mama makes four or five times more money than I do."

"Remember, girls, it was Daddy who put me through medical school. And don't hurt your father's feelings like that again, Lucy," Sallie warned. "You don't have to repeat everything Mr. Brighton says. Your father and I try to share the household chores."

"All the other mommies I know cook for their family," Jennifer said boldly, considering the bitter look that had entered Sallie's gray eyes. "Except you."

"I told you, Sallie," I said, studying Jennifer's hair. "If you raise children in the South, you produce southerners. And a southerner is one of God's natural fools."

"We're southern and we're not fools," said Sallie.

"Aberrations, dear. It happens once or twice every generation."

"Girls, go on upstairs and wash up. Lila is going to be here soon."

"Why doesn't she like us to call her Grandma?" Lucy asked.

"Because it makes her feel old. Run along now," Sallie said, moving the girls inside the house.

When she returned, Sallie leaned down and brushed her lips on my forehead. "I'm sorry Lucy said that. She's so goddamn conventional."

"It doesn't bother me, Sallie, I swear it doesn't. You know I adore the role of martyrdom--how I blossom in an atmosphere of self-pity. Poor nutless Tom Wingo, polishing the silver while his wife discovers a cure for cancer. Sad Tom Wingo making the perfect souffle while his wife knocks down a hundred grand a year. We knew this would happen, Sallie. We talked about it."
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. In the prologue Pat Conroy sets up many of the novel’s themes: his characters’ love of the Low Country and the South; the power Lila Wingo had over her children, who all adored her; their love of the natural world that shaped all three of their futures. In the midst of this idyllic piece of glorious signature Conroy writing, what signals does he give to his readers about the darkness that is to come in this novel? 

2. The novel begins when Tom Wingo, a recently fired teacher and coach, married to a successful physician, and father of three, receives a call from his obviously manipulative mother asking him to go to New York to help his twin sister, Savannah, who has once again attempted suicide. His three young daughters had just expressed embarrassment that he, unlike their friends’ fathers, stays home and cooks meals while it is their mother who goes to work. What other event takes place before he leaves that makes him feel a failure, what he calls “a mediocre man”? 

3. When Tom appears to be teasing his young daughters, he tells them that there is only one rule of life they must follow: “Never listen to what your parents say. Parents were put on earth for the sole purpose of making their children miserable. It is one of God’s most important laws. . . . Both Mama and I are screwing you up. If we knew how we were doing it we would stop because we adore you. But we’re parents and we can’t help it. . . . We are your enemies.” Are there any examples of good parenting in this novel that would argue against this warning? 

4. Pat Conroy willingly admits that his novels are informed to a great degree by his life experiences. The Great Santini was about growing up as the son of a physically violent and abusive Marine fighter pilot. “I created a boy named Ben Meechum and gave him my story,” says Conroy. In The Lords of Discipline he took on his military college, The Citadel, in a book that resulted in a twenty-years-plus feud between the author and his school, which was only recently resolved. In writing The Prince of Tides Conroy attempts to come to terms with his childhood and with the realization that his mother may well have been the more powerful parent and the source behind the self-deception and family secrets that crippled her children. And yet he says in the novel, “In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.” Do you believe him when he says this? 

5. The Prince of Tides is filled with stories of transformation, for example, his father’s wartime conversion to Catholicism, his sister Savannah’s becoming a New Yorker. Can you name others? 

6. The idea of twins has deep roots in literature, from Romulus and Remus in mythology, to Jacob and Esau in the Bible, to the twins in the more recent novel The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. Can you think of other examples in literature? How are Tom and Savannah alike? How are they different? 

7. When Tom first encounters Dr. Lowenstein, his sister’s psychiatrist, he is belligerent both to her and in his attitude toward the entire city of New York. Why, do you think, is he so suspicious? Do you feel she acted in the best interests of Savannah by involving her brother in her therapy? Tom is a teacher and Lowenstein is a psychoanalyst. In the end they help each other in ways they might never have predicted. Are the tools or the impulses that create teacher-coaches and therapists similar? How are they different? Does their relationship have anything to say about class issues? Give other examples of problems of communication brought about by class differences. 

8. What psychological tools besides denial does Tom use to distance himself from pain? 

9. Why, do you feel, does Pat Conroy use flashbacks throughout the novel? Do you find this technique helpful to you as a reader? 

10. One might say that the truest example of integrity seems to be exemplified in the character of Luke, the older brother. Do you agree? Why or why not? 

11. The natural world is clearly revered by Conroy. Can you find passages about nature that exemplify his power as a writer? 

12. Give examples of how Pat Conroy uses animals to advance the plot. 

13. Questions are raised regarding the price of gender throughout the novel. For instance, how does Lila treat Savannah differently from her sons? How does Savannah deal with the family’s secrets as opposed to the way her brothers deal with them? 

14. Do you think there is such a thing as a southern novel? Is The Prince of Tides a southern novel? If so, what does that mean to you? 

15. Who is the Prince of Tides? 

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 228 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(144)

4 Star

(49)

3 Star

(20)

2 Star

(11)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 231 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 1, 2010

    Top of my list

    I've read a lot of books, and this one has always topped my list of favorites. There's something about the way that Pat Conroy writes that just draws me in (I even enjoyed "My Losing Season", and I have absolutely no interest in basketball) -- his descriptions can conjure up a place or a person in a way that makes you not just see what he's describing, but really KNOW it. I have South Carolina in my blood, and this book makes me feel that in a way that really shocked me the first time I read it. As other readers have said, this book is FAR better than the movie it inspired; it is an absolutely spellbinding piece of literature and one that you can't possibly forget. I am thrilled that it's now an eBook -- I plan to read it many more times on my nook! Pat Conroy is my all-time favorite author, and I truly feel that "The Prince of Tides" is his best.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2010

    Entertaining ride through one man's life

    I confess that the 5 stars I gave this book are because of the way it takes me back home - to the South Carolina Lowcountry. As a transplant to the NYC Metro Area, the novel's setting couldn't be more perfect for me. Tom Wingo is a bit crude, but his tales of home are enough to make me want to pack up the moving truck and move back to Charleston.

    Conroy does a good job of mixing stories of the past and present without treating the reader like a child who needs hand-holding. The transitions can be as abrupt as an errant thought, but also come at predictable moments. There is variety, humor, love and just about every other intense human emotion.

    P.S. - As usual, the book is MUCH BETTER than the movie.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2012

    Mr. CONROY

    THE absolute best reading I have enjoyed! I cried I smiled I laughed... thank-you for sharing your talent....I can still smell the ocean breeze...you made my crazy life growing up in our own madness feel like it's ok, keeping family secrets was nothing to be ashamed of, and for the first time in my life I felt true compassion and understanding... I felt safe....bless you

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2011

    This book is a window on familial dysfunction.

    Conroy teases the reader's imagination with glimpses of madness and full views of the rational and emotional defense mechanisms that children and adults use to survive their circumstances. The book shows more than you want to see. Though the characters are always slightly larger than life, it is impossible to stop reading. Their stories are annoyingly interrupted and intersected, yet the sneaky familiarity of the themes of archetypal powerlessness, denial and retionalization demand attention. In the end . . . no, the end is for you to find. In fact, stop 30 pages before the end and imagine your own ending. Then peek again into this author's world.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008

    True to the Southern Way

    I picked up this book primarily because Conroy is from South Carolina (my home state) and because I wanted to read it before seeing the movie. I was thoroughly impressed by his descriptions of the Carolina Lowcountry as well as the ways of southern life. Not only does he write of the beauty and appeal of small southern towns where life never changes but he also touches on the desire many young southerners carry with them through adolesence: to get away from the stereotypes and restraints in order to experience new things and ideas. This book is the perfect addition to any beach bag or bookshelf. The only thing I didn't like about it were the 20-page chapters! :)

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 1, 2013

    I hated Henry, Savannah, and Lila Wingo, Reese Newbury, Herbert

    I hated Henry, Savannah, and Lila Wingo, Reese Newbury, Herbert Woodruff, and Monique. But I loved Tom Wingo and Susan Lowenstein and this novel. This novel covers the taboo subjects of rape, child abuse, and suicide attempts, and it does so unabashedly and with language and pitch-perfect storytelling ability that will literally tip over your emotional applecart.

    THE PRINCE OF TIDES peels back the curtains of the small-town, southern life, and it gives the reader a front row seat on shrimping and family loyalty, often taken to absurdist extremes. Almost anything is bad when taken to excess, and beating little kids followed by a flat-out denial that it ever happened takes awful to a whole new level. It's so bad that little children are told to never mention what happen, or pretend that it didn't happen. There's a word for that and irrational probably doesn't even begin to cover it. No matter how much you try to bury something, though, you eventually "come to a moment that we can't pretend isn't real." And this book is filled with several of those moments.

    This novel also highlights why I'll never live in New York City. I'm a southern gentleman at heart--referring to women as ma'am and ladies and opening doors--so if I were to live in The Big Apple, at some point I'd run into the feminist gestapo, during which I'd have my eyeballs poked out, my throat scratched, and I'd be pummeled to within an inch of my life all because I had the audacity to hold a door open for a lady. So I'll stick to my southern roots and say y'all come back now, ya hear. And if you like the south and enjoy going on an emotional roller-coaster ride, you'll certainly enjoy this novel.

    Robert Downs
    Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2011

    The very best of modern literature

    With The Prince of Tides Conroy takes the reader through an incredible and eloquent journey through the passions and many turmoils of the Wingo family. The language employed by Conroy in describing the largely disturbing content of the novel brings a beautiy to his writing unparralled in modern times. This book is an absolute "must-read" for anyone with an appreciation for the English language. I strongly recommend this book. Man may wonder but God decides When to kill the Prince of Tides

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2010

    One of the two best books ever written!

    A must read. This is one of the two best books ever written. Pat Conroy is a master storyteller! If you liked the movie, you will love this book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 16, 2010

    Mesmerizing!

    Pat Conroy is a marvelouse writer. He writes about the gentlest things then follow it up with horrors. He describes nature with the most beautiful, loving words, then change direction to describe the darkest of human nature.

    I envy his imagination and gift of words.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2011

    If you love the south in all its glory, read this book!

    I love Pat Conroy! He has an amazing ability to describe things vividly so you feel like you are there. All his books are about the South and the many layers of being a Southerner. Enjoy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2011

    Perfection

    This man uses words the same eay Motzart used notes.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I didn't want it too end...

    Magical (and I never use that word) ! Please do yourself a favor and read this touching and moving novel. Don't be put off because of the lame movie.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful!

    This is a rich and compelling read! Hard to put down and sad to find it over!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 27, 2014

    An American Treasure

    Prince of Tides is everything American. You will find yourself crying, laughing, indignant and in awe that an American family can find itself so lost and aching. Pat Conroy is a bigger person than I am! I could never (and haven't ) forgiven a father who thrived on subjecting such pain and discord to family members. Pat Conroy is the fore-mentioned American Treasure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2014

    Wonderful read!

    This book has a compelling plot line showing the best and worst of human nature in a beautiful South Carolina natural setting. I could hardly put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2013

    Amazing

    My favorite book of all time

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2013

    Very good book

    I read this book many years ago. Shocking, intense, heart-breaking. It had it all. I would def read it again.

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  • Posted February 22, 2013

    recommended

    I enjoyed the movie more then the book. now that I said that the book was good to read it stands on its own. the simmilarities are their but the book has way moor information then the movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2013

    Bravo

    This is the first time I have read a book by Pat Conroy! Wonderful book. I loved his writing, his choice of words, a beautiful and hearbreaking tale of this family. I cannot get enough.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2012

    A classic.

    This one is going down as a fave.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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