Cara's Reviews > The Prince Of Tides

The Prince Of Tides by Pat Conroy
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's review
Aug 01, 10

bookshelves: fun-or-frivolity
Read in July, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Read at Bisby. If I had been sure this would be as good as it was, I could have left about four other books behind--this one was enough for most of the trip.

It's a long, complex, and beautifully told story. I can't imagine how they'd even begin to make it a movie, but I think they have. It's the story of the main character, Tom, growing up, both in the sense that it contains the story of his childhood through early adulthood and in the sense that it contains his awakening. His family is very screwed up, with a father who was physically abusive and a mother who was psychologically abusive. Each of the three children took on a caricature role as a way of coping with the horrible and crazy things that happened during their childhood. The older brother, Luke, was the strong one who tried to protect everybody; Tom's twin sister, Savannah, was the crazy one, who heard voices in her head, couldn't remember anything, and tried to kill herself numerous times; and Tom just went into a state of scared denial. He was able to walk through life for many years, being a wage slave, crappy husband, and all-around mediocre person, but when Luke died, he fell apart.

The book contains many harrowing tales of awful events, but the worst part for me was the dread of how Luke was going to die. It's foreshadowed for most of the book before it's finally told. Honestly, I thought the tiger was going to maul him, but that didn't happen. He actually ended up dying for a cause he chose as worth dying for. He was offered an out but didn't take it. Therefore, I consider his death to be sad but not tragic, as Tom and Savannah both consider it to be. Unlike the other two, Luke kept his integrity and lived his principles. His stance may have been misguided, but he never lost sight of who he was or what he stood for. I respect that.

The main story, though, is about how Tom finally deals with the events of his past. He arrives in New York soon after Savannah's latest suicide attempt and takes on the responsibility of telling Lowenstein, Savannah's therapist, the whole family history, under the assumption that this will help Lowenstein unlock Savannah's madness and set her right again. It ends up working out for Savannah, but more so for Tom. Their mother's guiding principle was denial throughout everything bad that ever happened, and she enforced this with an iron fist. She could be straight out of People of the Lie. All this denial worked to paralyze Tom, to the point that he was so afraid of what was in his head, he was using all his energy to block it out and keep from looking in there. I've been through a tiny micro-version of this, so I recognize it. Eventually, with Lowenstein's help, he manages to face his fears, look inside, and go through everything. Doing that enables him to begin again as a whole person instead of just an empty shell.

I found the story very engaging and quite fascinating, and I admire the way the author wove in the reality of the situation with the different characters' distorted perspectives. However, the dialog was absolutely horrible. It's probably an intentional effect--the character of Tom reliably turns pedantic and insufferable whenever he's on the defensive, which is nearly all the time--but damn is it annoying. Almost no dialog anywhere in the book sounds like something anyone would actually say. It sounds more like a paper someone wrote and then revised over and over. Luckily the book doesn't contain much dialog.

Also, I have a bit of a gripe with the ending. Susan, Tom's wife, begins the book by telling him she's been cheating on him and wants out of the marriage. Given how empty and prickly Tom had become, this isn't totally unfounded, but her timing sure doesn't get her any sympathy. Well, over the course of Tom's time in NYC, Susan finds out her lover had several others besides her at the same time. Once she finds that out and has a chance to feel stupid about it, she wants Tom back. Meanwhile, Tom has fallen in love with Lowenstein, and she has facilitated his transformation and redemption. Although their love seems to be more intense, more healthy, and more pure than the mess with Susan, Tom goes back to Susan because he's a Southerner and can't let go of the past or something. Bah. It is consistent with the character of Tom, but I think it's too bad.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Bethany Tom's wife was Sallie but I totally agree with you on the ending. His love for Lowenstein and the love he got from her was a beautiful kind of thing you don't give up if you find it.

Cara Sallie? D'oh! Apparently, I didn't even like her well enough to get her name right.

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