Trigger Warning: This novel and it’s review contain descriptions of and mention the following topics: physical abuse, child abuse, mental abuse, racism, rape, depression, suicide, mental illness, shock therapy, hallucinations, death.
Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
Year Published: 1986
In The Prince of Tides, Tom Wingo is the main character with a lot of family issues from his childhood. He and his twin sister Savannah struggle with their past but in different ways. Tom utilizes dark, self-deprecating humor to battle his inner turmoil, while Savannah goes through bouts of severe depression and self harm. Tom, as her twin and only living brother (another facet of the troublesome family history), always goes to her side when she ends up in a hospital after her suicide attempts.
“The story of my family was the story of salt water, of boats and shrimp, of tears and storm.”
This time, when Tom’s mother relays her latest incident, Tom finds Savannah in a catatonic state. Her therapist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein, has noted that she was seemingly mumbling random words upon her arrival and plays back the audio recording of it- to which Tom understands and recognizes snippets from his own childhood memories. From here, he works with Savannah’s therapist, dissecting their childhood past that involves their respect for the black widow, the abuse from their father, and their mother’s emotional manipulation. He also works through the pain of his wife’s affair and what that means for his marriage.
As Tom and Lowenstein delve into the past, they form a friendship and respect for each other. Tom reveals the threads that weave together to form the Wingo family tapestry, and though colorful, it does have it’s dark spaces. Once fully fleshed out, Tom has to face how his past and present have affected him, and what pieces he can put back together for the future.
“In an early poem, Savannah called him “the liege of storm, the thane of winds” and when she came to New York, she always claimed, smiling, that she and her brothers had been fathered by a blitzkrieg.”
I’d started reading The Prince of Tides over three month ago (yikes!) because The Southern Girl Reads decided to do a buddy read with a lot of people on Instagram. I joined in late in the game but had The Prince of Tides on my reading list for a while so I was determined to finish the book in time for their last book discussion. I failed. I ended up texting Amy to let her know that I wasn’t going to be able to make the discussion in time because I wasn’t going to finish the book- I had so many things going on and way too many other commitments to knock out the 600 page beast. I did start it and got about 40% of it read, but I struggled to get through it because I didn’t connect with the main character… yet. So, I decided to put the book down, and take some time away from it, and take off the pressure I had put on myself to finish it. I read some other books, cleared up my schedule, and finally found the time to finish the read.
Yet again, Conroy has blown me away with his poetic and descriptive writing. Midway through the novel, I felt that same emotional tug that I felt when I first read South of Broad. Conroy’s character development is superb- I wasn’t 100% in love with Tom and his dramatics in the first 150 pages, but after that, I found the more he shared about his past and the way he restarted his life in NYC made him so much more charming than his original hard edge. I loved the relationship he had with his siblings and how despite their family’s social status growing up, they were always proud to wear their last names, and the clothes they had, and be the characters they grew up to be. Their adventures and understanding of each other, and the way they could forgive the wrongs of the past was so captivating and endearing.
“Swift and dazzling through the light I ran, past the eyes of my screaming father, who followed my progress through a glass aperture, past my twin sister leaping and twisting on the sidelines, cherishing the moment because she cherished me, past my mother, whose beauty could not disguise her shame at who she was and what she had come from. But at this moment- mythic and elegiac- she was the mother of Tom Wingo…”
Though the novel was long, Tom’s recollections would whisk me away, and Conroy would describe a moment or place as if the reader were right there- The Prince of Tides is absolutely atmospheric. After reading The Lost Prince about Conroy and his past, I could see how he put himself and his personal touches into his novel- such as the problems with his father and the separation with his wife. I also recognized the borrowed name of Mewshaw, the author of The Lost Prince, within the novel.
Although it’s an emotional rollercoaster, I would still absolutely recommend the novel, and I intend to continue reading more of Conroy’s masterpieces.
What Makes it a Classic?
Not only did Conroy tackle a large selection of taboo and difficult subjects (see trigger warning above for that list) but he also managed to do it so tactfully and with a charm. Mixed with his household name, you have a writer who can connect with millions of readers.
TL/DR: The Prince of Tides late 1980’s classic novel about a heart-wrenching fictional family drama.
Read it? Abso-freakin-lutely.
Recommend it? Yes, but even though it’ll tear your heart into a million pieces.
Buy it? YES. Mostly because it could take a long time to read, and you need to be in the right mood for it, so borrowing a copy isn’t exactly ideal. Also, once you’ve read it, you’ll want that story on your shelves forever.
Watch the Movie? I have yet to do so myself, but I have been warned against it. I’ll update if I do watch it, but for safety sake, I’d say just stick with the book.
If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:
- South of Broad by Pat Conroy
- The Lost Prince by Michael Mewshaw
- Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
- The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay
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