I felt when I finished this book last night the same way I feel whenever I finish a book that takes me more than two weeks to read: relieved and exhausted, which is especially true after finishing The Prince of Tides. This is quite possibly the most emotionally fraught of the Pat Conroy canon. In it he seems to find the perfect balance of florid sentimentality and pure raw emotion. In flipping through GoodReads this book has either 4-5 star reviews or 1-2 star reviews: people either love it or hate it. I think this might be true of all of Pat Conroy’s books, but please correct me if I’m wrong. I suspect I’m not going to have a ton to say tonight, but I might surprise myself.
It seems that I am a bit inured to the magic of PAT CONROY MONTH!!! this year. The first year we did this on the blog I was enraptured with returning to Pat Conroy’s world after a very long absence. But at this point I’ve already reread The Lords of Discipline (my favorite), and The Great Santini (probably his best), and I’m out of unread options with the exception of The Boo, which I tried to read in the early nineties and I just couldn’t do it this year, despite how short it is. I remember enjoying The Prince of Tides when I first read it back in 1992 or 1993, but it didn’t speak to me like the stories where the protagonist was an adolescent or a college student. And that’s the case even now. I simply couldn’t connect with any of the Wingos like I could with the Meecham kids or with Will McLean or Annie Kate. Interestingly, Tom and Savannah Wingo are, in the present day of the novel, exactly my age, but I couldn’t find much common ground with them beyond that. Sure, I’ve had depression in my life. But I’ve never hallucinated or had to be committed for observation or attempted suicide. Conroy seems to be better at capturing the universality of the late teens/early twenties better than the universality of the mid-thirties. Maybe that’s because he was too close to the subject matter (he was in his late thirties when he wrote/published The Prince of Tides). Maybe he would be better at writing about people of this age now that he has aged a bit. Or maybe not. I know that I’m over-simplifying the art of writing, but it’s something to think about.
Ultimately, I did enjoy The Prince of Tides, even though I took forever to get into it and found some of the Conoryvian interludes a bit distracting. Once I got into it (translation: had time to sit down and read for more than ten minutes before passing out at the end of the day), the novel really flowed well until I got to the last big dramatic bit with Luke and the Colleton River Project/plutonium factory. It was just too much for me. It almost would have been better to have Luke meet his tragic end at the same time Caesar the Tiger did. Yes, the Wingo family has a pet tiger. It’s a long story, but it’s a good one. As are most of the stories in this book.
And that’s it. PAT CONROY MONTH!!! 2014 is over for me. I admit, I’m anxious to get to reading my next book. My next selection is equal parts strategic blogger move and giving in to a temptation I’ve been resisting for the better part of five years: yes, friends, I’m going to read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Stay tuned for updates.