I do. It’s Pat Conroy’s 1991 novel The Prince of Tides.
Some reviews, like the one in Publishers Weekly, approved: “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.”
The New York Times’ assessment is probably closer to the way a lot of people see the novel now after the acclaim from the book and film versions of The Great Santini and The Lords of Discipline have faded into the the past: “In The Prince of Tides, the smart man and serious writer in Pat Conroy have been temporarily waylaid by the bullying monster of heavy-handed, inflated plot and the siren voice of Mother South at her treacherous worst – embroidered, sentimental, inexact, telling it over and over again as it never was.”
While I agree with both reviews, the siren voice of the novel still pulls me in toward the rocks of Conroy’s near-purple prose, sentimentality, and other manipulative techniques. All in all, The Great Santini and The Lords of Discipline are probably much better novels. Amazon calls The Prince of Tides a family saga. I call it southern Gothic.
In Prince of Tides, protagonist Tom Wingo has enough self pity for ten men. Yes, he has cause–in spades, I would say. He knows he’s been damaged beyond repair by his childhood along with his brother and sister. He knows the damage is obvious, so he deflates prospective criticisms of himself by mocking himself.
But, I still like the book. I’m less generous toward the movie which, frankly, needed a different cast even though the New York Times gave it a positive review. I like the book because there are grains of truth in Tom Wingo’s most pitiful and sarcastic comments, because Tom loves his more-damaged sister unconditionally, and because–when Conroy is at his best–his descriptions of the country along the South Carolina coast are the exceptional. (You can also see such descriptions in South of Broad which, fortunately, was less overwritten.)
Grain of Truth: “There is such a thing as too much beauty in a woman and it is often a burden as crippling as homeliness and far more dangerous. It takes much luck and integrity to survive the gift of perfect beauty, and its impermanence is its most cunning betrayal.”
South Carolina: “It was growing dark on this long southern evening, and suddenly, at the exact point her finger had indicated, the moon lifted a forehead of stunning gold above the horizon, lifted straight out of filigreed, light-intoxicated clouds that lay on the skyline in attendant veils.
“Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold….The new gold of moon astonishing and ascendant, he depleted gold of sunset extinguishing itself in the long westward slide, it was the old dance of days in the Carolina marshes, the breathtaking death of days before the eyes of children, until the sun vanished, its final signature a ribbon of bullion strung across the tops of water oaks.”
I’ll probably read the novel again, but not for a while. Too much self-pity. Too much sugary sarcasm. I need some time to recuperate.
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