The Prince of Tides: A Novel

by Pat Conroy

Paperback, 2002

Call number




Dial Press Trade Paperback (2002), Edition: Reprint, 704 pages


Fiction. Literature. HTML:New York Times bestseller: A "powerful" Southern drama about the destructive repercussions of keeping an unspeakable family secret (The Atlanta Journal). Tom Wingo has lost his job, and is on the verge of losing his marriage, when he learns that his twin sister, Savannah, has attempted suicide again. At the behest of Savannah's psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein, Tom reluctantly leaves his home in South Carolina to travel to New York City and aid in his sister's therapy. As Tom's relationship with Susan deepens, he reveals to her the turbulent history of the Wingo family, and exposes the truth behind the fateful day that changed their lives forever. Drawing richly from the author's own troubled upbringing, The Prince of Tides is a sweeping, powerful novel of unlocking the past to overcome the darkest of personal demonsâ??it's Pat Conroy at his very be… (more)

Media reviews

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
Show More
never was.
Show Less

User reviews

LibraryThing member Bay
This is a powerful novel for its prose if not for its whole novel mechanics. At the beginning Tom Wingo's flippancy and witty rejoinders are hilarious and his interactions with his mother Lila are scintillating. Then it grows tedious near the middle. It's just too hard to believe the overarching
Show More
intellectualism he assigns to these two brutally traumatized characters, as well as all his character dyads. I agree with jonwwil's assessment that Conroy creates dialogue that just isn't the way real people speak. Part of the problem is that Conroy pads the pages with very long character diatribes without giving the reader the small gift of breaking it up with gesture or setting. I've found myself many times stopping to imagine myself in the scene to lend the characters the credibility Conroy has not just so I can keep reading.

Conroy's writing is so strong, gripping, at first, then I catch him using the same words and metaphors again and again. Whether it is intended brilliance or laziness I have not yet decided.

I found the earlier story about the twins' birth so energetic, spellbinding and such sheer literary joy that I was willing to suspend disbelief until it occurred to me that this book was going to go like this...tall tales and mythology that informs the narrator. Ah, I thought, Tom creates fictions within fictions to illustrate the mind's struggle to survive the brutal reality of the story he actually lived, like some post-traumatic stress survival mechanism. And this is what the reader should understand as they move through the novel. But then, by the time we get to the Snow, which is sometimes Snow, then The Snow, then Carolina Snow -- arrgh!! which is it? Is that the point; that it depended upon the mood of the speaker? Again, is Conroy training his readers like the Seaquarium trains their sensitive amphibian mammals? Look, I know that last question was petty, but that's just about the state I find myself reduced to in this read.

Then there is Susan Lowenstein's verbal tic of tagging Tom's name onto nearly every sentence she addresses to him. Again, is this authorial strategy? She sounds like a car salesman and I wonder what Conroy is attempting.
There is just so much this novel asks me to play along with that gets in the way of my enjoyment of its beautiful language.

The flashbacks between the present day and the dynamics between Tom and Susan become increasingly long, with some scenes seeming to provide only delay in getting back to the more interesting story. An example: why have the Lila's birthday scene? (I think that in the movie the birthday cake and celebration was the same night as the awful attack, but I'll have to see the movie again.) Conroy would have us believe that Tom, with a savagely torn and bleeding rectum, could just comply to Lila's psychotic denial and sit, literally, through a dinner without crying, writhing or even spiking a fever. If the intent was to illustrate the depths of Lila's denial, why, at least, do we not hear from Tom's point of view what must have been the physically unbearable after effects? It smacks of a certain arrogance, or, again, laziness on the writer's part. I mean, really? You can clean up the aftermath of not one, but THREE, butchered bodies and an injured Bengal tiger between your kitchen and living room to the point of surgery ready cleanliness in the time it takes for your husband to get home from work? And even then he doesn't notice that something, what is it? Have you done something different with the room? Didn't we used to have an easy chair where that bullet hole now is?

Which leads me to my next point of agreement with jonwwil. The father begins as this menacing, violent pathological repository of repression, then, without any explanation, later in the novel is a hapless frustrated entrepreneur who just kinda shrugs about his kids and suffers his wife's disillusions of him quietly.

The book is very interesting and a good read nonetheless. The language is breathtaking albeit very often pretentious. Warning: have your dictionary and sweatsuit close at hand for an intense session of "linguinastics!"
Show Less
LibraryThing member CasualFriday
I’m really sorry to have to pan a book that so many people love. It’s been on my to-read list for decades. I was in the mood for a big, soapy pleasure read, and this book was surely big and soapy, but hardly a pleasure.

Now, I should have been more careful to pick a book that doesn’t push my
Show More
buttons: an anti-feminist narrator, a whites-only picture of the American south, tedious descriptions of sporting events. If you love all these factors, you may love the book. But aside from thematic elements that I tend to avoid, I experienced this book as 577 of humble-bragging. Meet the Wingo family! We are not just dysfunctional, we are the biggest, baddest dysfunctional family you’ll ever meet. Plus we are all geniuses, and our lives and our loves are deeper than yours. I was thoroughly annoyed.
Plus, the book had too many plot-points that were plain unbelievable. The tiger. The porpoise, The highly unethical psychiatrist. And all this is rendered in tinny dialog and in vividly purple prose that is sometimes unintentionally funny.

After all these years of people pressing me to read Conroy, I finally did. Next time I’ll keep my own counsel.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jonwwil
This is the second novel I've read by Pat Conroy (the first being Beach Music), and my feelings on his work are complicated. I was originally planning to break my thoughts down into "The Good" vs. "The Bad," but I can't even do that because they're inextricably entwined. So I guess I'll just have
Show More
to go free-form and do the best I can.

A quote on the back of my copy of the novel says that it is "COMPULSIVELY READABLE" (from no less a source than Glamour magazine, mind you), and I found that to be true...although I couldn't for the life of me provide a credible explanation as to why that was the case. The plot, when stripped to its core, is laughably unbelievable and lame: a South Carolina cracker and an uppity New York psychiatrist, each loathing everything the other stands for, fall in love. There's a whole lot more to the story, but as that's where it begins and ends and everything else seems to exist mainly to set it up, that seems like the main point. I think it would have been a stronger novel if Conroy had excised that portion of it and just told the story of the Wingo family without framing it in the story of Tom and Susan.

One thing you know unequivocally that you're going to get from Conroy is elegant, sumptuous, nearly breathtaking prose. The man has an obvious talent for seeing things in a certain way, and then putting them down in a way you've never thought of before but recognize immediately. He's worth reading for that if nothing else. The words he puts into the mouths of his characters, on the other amazing as his powers of observation seem to be, he has very little feel for the way real people speak to each other. I will say, though, that it wasn't as bad in The Prince of Tides as it was in Beach Music. Which is interesting, since Beach Music came later - you'd think he would have gotten better instead of worse.

Dialogue aside, I didn't find any of the characters in this book likable or even particularly believable. Well, that's not wholly true - I liked the Wingo siblings as kids. As adults, they evolved into nutjobs and douchebags, and I thought there was, for the most part, a real disconnect from their characters as kids and as adults. Even given the things that had happened to them, I just didn't see those kids becoming those adults. For example, Tom, the narrator and main character, seems (sometimes - it's not particularly consistent) to be something of a weak child, but he's a man of action (albeit prickish, sometimes ineffectual action) as an adult. And one recurring theme is how afraid the kids were of their father, but most of the scenes don't indicate fear - the kids seemed almost eager to provoke him, and he's almost a nonentity to his wife, despite how brutal he supposedly is to her. There are some scenes which actually do portray him as abusive, so it's not as though I don't believe that he was...Conroy just didn't make me believe that it really had an effect on the kids, or at least the effect Tom tried so hard to convey that it had.

Even with the problems of dialogue and consistency, Conroy somehow makes the characters interesting, and even manages to hit a few notes of beauty. One thing I think he probably absolutely nailed was the bond between the Wingo kids. I didn't grow up with my own siblings, so I can't speak from personal experience, but their closeness really did ring true to me. It might seem strange after what I've had to say so far, but I do think Conroy has a certain feel for his characters, and how they relate to each other (if not the actual words they would use). I think the problem may lie in the fact that sometimes he needs them to act a certain way in order to advance the plot, and that's not really the way that character would truly act. I don't know about his writing method, so I could easily be wrong about that, but that how it seems to me.

I also had a problem with a couple of plot points that didn't really seem to go anywhere. At one point there's an albino porpoise that their father sells into captivity, and the kids go steal it back, and we never see how their father reacted, if at all. Then there's a big buildup to Tom having dinner with his mother and stepfather, whom he hates, and the identity of the stepfather is supposed to be a surprise (even though it's not). Conroy shows Tom in the restaurant, shaking hands and apologizing to his stepfather, who I'd probably go so far as to call the #2 "villain" in the book, and that's it. I just don't get it.

And that's another thing I just don't like or get about either Conroy book I've read. So much of the book is spent on making these characters out to be responsible for all this harm, and then in the end they're turned into sympathetic characters, forgiven and loved by those they harmed (in this book it's Henry and Lila Wingo and Reese Newbury; in Beach Music it's the McCall parents, plus General Elliot). I have nothing against character redemption - far from it - but I need to see a reason for it. In Conroy's work, I don't. The main characters just put their terrible experiences behind them and everyone lives happily ever after.

So, bottom line: it's highly readable. It's often beautiful. It's definitely interesting. Is it good? Personally, I'd say no. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's bad, but it's flawed. I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it who was inclined to do so, although I'd be very interested to compare notes when they finished. And I know that other reviews are mostly positive, so I'm aware that I'm in the minority here. I'll probably try to check out the movie at some point soon, to see how it compares and if it softens or changes any of my opinions. And I'm sure I'll read more by Conroy before it's all said and done. His prose is worth it, even if the story itself is not.
Show Less
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Audiobook narrated by Frank Muller

Tom Wingo leaves his Charleston home to go to New York City because his twin sister, Savannah, has tried, yet again, to commit suicide. Savannah has repressed much of her childhood and her psychiatrist, Dr Susan Lowenstein, is hoping that Tom can fill in the
Show More
gaps in an effort to get to the cause of Savannah’s mental illness/distress. As Tom reluctantly begins to recall their childhood spent in the Low Country of South Carolina, he slowly comes to realize the emotional toll it has taken on not just Savannah, but all the Wingo family members.

This is a story about a Dysfunctional family (with a capital D). It’s a story about one man’s belated attempts to come to grips with the horrors of his childhood, to recognize the reality of his family relationships, and to find a way to become a better man despite all that he has endured. That’s exactly the kind of literature I love. But …

While Conroy’s prose can be poetic, intensely personal, funny, irreverent, and so evocative of place that you can smell the brine of a salt marsh, his plotting in this case is sometimes so over-the-top as to stretch credulity too far. I got the feeling the story got away from him and he couldn’t figure out how to end it. For me the scene with greatest impact should have been the one that becomes the GREAT FAMILY SECRET. Tom is supposedly relating this to Dr Lowenstein and it is so horrific an occurrence that one would naturally expect an emotional breakdown (especially after keeping it a deep dark secret for so long). Yet it seemed to have little emotional depth (this may be a fault of the narrator on the audio book). Nor did it seem to have any cathartic effect. Oh, and there are still 150 pages to go to the end of the book.

And speaking of the ending – I felt really let down and disappointed. There didn’t seem to be any real point to this great airing of all the family’s tragic secrets.

Several plot elements and characterizations seemed to work at cross purposes. Susan Lowenstein was as messed up emotionally as her patients. And her behavior – from the beginning – was FAR from professional. Henry Wingo is portrayed as possibly the worst father and husband ever found in literature, yet his children love and forgive him without so much as an apology for what he put them through (in fact he totally denies it ever happened). Tom would have us believe that Lila was a fine mother protecting her children in one episode, and nothing but a selfish, self-serving, social climber the next. I know that children who are abused still love their parents, but these adult children of abusive parents seem to have an unrealistic ability to forgive and forget. I think a good editor might have helped Conroy trim a hundred pages and still have a great novel.

Frank Muller does a creditable job narrating the audio. His pacing is good and he had enough skill as a voice artist to differentiate most of the characters. He really made Tom come alive for me – sarcastic one moment, deeply troubled the next. However, some of the scenes which I felt should have had the greatest emotional impact were delivered without much emotion at all.
Show Less
LibraryThing member tkcs
Conroy uses his difficult Southern childhood and adolescence as the basis for themes of Southern culture, parental and sibling relationships, spirituality and survival. Brilliant writing. (not for sensitive readers)
Read this years ago and the feelings I had reading it have stayed with me.
LibraryThing member jmchshannon
How to describe the novel that is The Prince of Tides? Told in true Southern fashion, taking its time as it weaves the story of the Wingo family from Colleton, South Carolina, Mr. Conroy's tale is a stunning epic about the sacrifices made and challenges faced in the name of love. Whether the love
Show More
is carnal, familial, or platonic, love is the tie that binds each character together through the good times and bad and ultimately causes each character to reach his or her breaking point.

This is truly an epic. Spanning 40 years and several generations, the secrets of the Wingo family unfold slowly and painfully. Told through flashbacks as Tom talks with Dr. Susan Lowenstein in an effort to help his sister, the stories alternate between poignant, quirky, upsetting and happy. The bonds of the Wingo family are tested and tried repeatedly, yet the love they share remains. The stories draw the reader into the eccentricity that is the Wingo family, to the point that a reader does not notice that they are getting imperceptibly darker and more upsetting until Tom reveals the key to Savannah's problems. This key is so horrific, so shocking, it shakes a reader to one's core.

Make no mistake, The Prince of Tides is as much a love story about the lowcountry and barrier islands off the South Carolina coast as it is a story about family. Mr. Conroy's descriptions of the land are pure poetry and so evocative, the reader can all but smell the salt water and the sharp tang of a shrimp boat, feel the warm ocean breezes, and hear the hum of the mosquitoes. His descriptions of New York City are flat and insipid in comparison to the lush grandeur he affords for all things Carolinian. The end result is not only a crystal clear image of that very scene he is trying to create, it is a real desire to drive down to South Carolina and experience the sensual pleasures depicted for one's very self.

As an audiobook, the novel works extremely well. The narrator, Frank Muller, embodies the anger and sarcasm that permeates Tom's entire being, while allowing the reader glimpses of Tom's fragility and sensitivity he tries so desperately to hide. In fact, Mr. Muller captures all of the emotions and tensions in each character and brings that aspect of each character to life in his intonation, pitch, tonality and pacing of each. The cast of characters takes on new life under his performance, one that greatly enhances the witty dialogue and strengthens the relationships created by Mr. Conroy.

This is one of those novels that left me speechless in so many ways. The key scene moved me to tears while making me utterly nauseous. There are simply not enough adjectives to adequately describe this novel. While I'm sure others have seen the movie, I am truly grateful I avoided it and was able to experience the world of Colleton, South Carolina in Mr. Conroy's own words. He has a gift of the language which makes reading his words an all-encompassing pleasure. If you have not yet been able to experience the lowcountry told through Mr. Conroy's eyes, look no further than The Prince of Tides.
Show Less
LibraryThing member amsee
I fell in love with this book. Conroy’s turns of phrase and descriptions are beautiful. I was elated when the good things happened and depressed when the bad things happened. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work.
LibraryThing member dldbizacct
Not all abusive childhoods are bereft of love and happiness, and Pat Conroy beautifully illustrates this confounding truth in his remarkable book The Prince of Tides. He doesn't sweep the ugliness under the rug, as several of his characters would prefer, nor does he condone or excuse the abuse. He
Show More
highlights it, examines its origins, and amply cites its vast consequences, all the while showing another side of life that included beauty, clumsy but deep love, fierce loyalty, and the makings of fond and poignant memories. He tackles a lot of other issues, as well, including racism, mental illness, stereotypes, and survival, to name just a few.

This is a long book with rich and complex characters, plot, subplots, and dialogue. The relationship between the main character and Dr. Lowenstein seemed forced and unrealistic, but other than that, I very much enjoyed this book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member FormerEnglishTeacher
This may mark the end of my readings of Pat Conroy’s books. If not, it’s close. I really liked this book in spite of its length and in spite of Pat Conroy’s typical overwriting. His writing is beautiful; it’s just that he sometimes doesn’t know when to stop. The story here, like most of
Show More
Conroy’s “fictional” writing, is based not so loosely on his own family growing up, especially the portrayal of his father and his sister. My only criticism is the book is far too long. Conroy could easily have made two books out of it. That said, I never felt it was a slog while I was reading it. I felt like I do whenever I’m reading a book I really enjoy—I look forward to every reading session when I pick it up. I’m going to miss Pat Conroy when I finally do finish every one of his books.
Show Less
LibraryThing member TheLostEntwife
There are some books that claim to be big family saga-type stories but just.. aren't. Then there are books like East of Eden by Steinbeck and The Colour by Rose Tremain that blow the socks off the reader and remind us what sagas really are.

The Prince of Tides is yet another to add to the list of
Show More
mind-blowing, toe-curling sagas.

From the very start of this book, where smart-mouthed Tom begins to tease his children, put down himself and attempt to flee from his own mother's phone call, this book had me hooked. The smart, wise-cracking mouth of Tom, his self-loathing, his pain was made evident in just a few short pages. And then, with the introduction of Lowenstein, the psychiatrist treating Tom's suicidal sister, Savannah, a story begins to emerge that's filled with so much heart-twisting drama, I couldn't tear myself away from the book because I had to know what happened, I had to know why a boy who adored his mother couldn't stand her any longer and why a twin sister wanted nothing to do with her twin brother.

This story tore my heart out. I sat on my sofa and wept as key elements of the story were finally revealed, but it never got to be too much, because of Conroy's masterful storytelling. Just when the tension and the drama would reach that uppermost limit, just when I felt I needed to step back and compose myself, he would switch from the past, from Tom's story, to the present-day and remind me of just who Tom was again. Each time I would see a little more of the character who developed due to his past.

The characters in The Prince of Tides are so incredibly dynamic and real, I hated to leave them behind. It was like leaving behind a friend, someone I'd journeyed with through amazing tension and drama and then had to say goodbye just when things were starting to look good again. I was so impressed with this novel and laugh when I think about how naive I was when I began it - thinking that it was just another hyped up book and hoping it would move quickly so I could put it down and say that I'd read it.

I'll be revisiting this story again though, and I'm sure again and again. It's too powerful not to read through it more slowly the next time and savor the beauty of the writing and the exquisiteness of the story development.
Show Less
LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
I could almost smell the salt air of the coast reading this masterpiece. I will never forget Tom Wingo or his family's story. Pat Conroy can take you to the coast like no one else. This book was packed full of family dysfunction. Tom takes off to New York after the news that his sister has
Show More
attempted suicide. As he tells the family history to his sister's therapist we learn about this family's troubled past. Maybe in telling the story, Tom can finally find some peace of his own.
Show Less
LibraryThing member RachelPenso
Another one of my favorite books. I wish I could read it again for the first time.
LibraryThing member silversurfer
Great book, very involving, full of emotions...and a great film by Streisand, who was robbed of an Oscar.
LibraryThing member fwendy
Exquisitely told story of a southern family and the individual problems/demons within. It is a virtual painting of a landscape and community filled with flaws, beauty, and quirks. The humor, the suspenseful (& sometimes horrific) events, and family relationships make this historically brief saga a
Show More
satisfying story. But it’s the southern painting that really captured me.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jb460
An excellent coming-of-age story. The characters are intensely believable . A beautiful and sometimes heart-breaking picture of the American South.
LibraryThing member andyray
this is a modern dickinsonian novel, and one is damaged by seeing the movie first. There is sooo much more in the book, but you have tasted the heavy nectar of the Hollywood Gods and you await such-and-such a scene. Drags some. But if I had the sense of a drunken goose I'd have read the book first,
Show More
as from now on I shall do. Marvelous control of theme, plot, and words. A teaching novel.
Show Less
LibraryThing member estellen
I enjoyed it, although he tends to go off on a tangent at times and diverts from the story - but that only adds the anticipation of the big "reveal" at the end.
LibraryThing member sandburg
A very painful reading but absolutely worthwhile. I love and hate the story at the same time, but when it was finished I couldn't stop thinking about it.
LibraryThing member firebird013
Compelling story with extraordinary evocations of place and character. A quintessential good read!
LibraryThing member drsyko
This is one of my all time favorite books. Pat Conroy is such a skilled writer that he takes a plot that on the face of it is completely implausible and makes it so incredibly real and believable. Conroy tells a story of love and tragedy, injury and healing, and ultimately redemption. His
Show More
characters are deeply human and flawed and yet they are heroic in their own ways. This book practically vibrates it is so alive and beautiful.
Show Less
LibraryThing member foof2you
Jimmy Buffett wrote a song called the "Prince of Tides" where he recites a quote from the book. At the time I did not know there was a book by this name and it took the movie comming out for me to realize the connection.

I saw the movie and then read the book. I really liked the book. The tension
Show More
in the family and with Lowenstien was very real.

I loved the characters and the way Conroy tells the story.

I have read the book twice an excellent read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member dee_kohler
Conroy's prose made me fall in love with southern fiction
LibraryThing member jmoncton
A beautifully written story about Tom Wingo and his twin sister Savannah. Tom goes to NYC to try and rescue his sister Savannah after yet another failed suicide attempt. As he works with her therapist, the family's skeletons come out of the closet and a a twisted past unfolds. This story was a 4.9
Show More
star book for me. I loved the way the South is described and the deeply emotional stories are told. The audio narration performed by Frank Mueller is also perfect. But, there were a few parts of the plot - especially at the end - that didn't match the descriptions of the characters that left this just shy of 5 stars for me. Great book to listen to, enjoy and discuss!
Show Less
LibraryThing member litratcher
I love Pat Conroy's masterful use of the language. This heartbreaking story of a man's tortured relationship with his mother and the damage she inflicts on her children is filled with humor, suspense, and a deep love of coastal South Carolina. A must-read.
LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
This has long been one of my go-to books for reading & re-reading when I need something well-written & familiar. Pat Conroy has a beautiful way with language & tells a good story & this book is no exception.

The narrator's family & the Carolina Low Country are the stars of the show in this book as
Show More
Tom Wingo tries to tell the story of their past in an effort to save his sister from her suicidal tendencies. In the end, of course, he saves himself along with her (& maybe that's the point).

I love the stories of the Wingo family & the dignity & humanity that Conroy gives every member. Yes, there is tragedy & darkness, but there is also eccentricity & humor & survival & love. There is nothing simple about these people & nothing simple about their stories. The creeping & awful dread that sits in the middle of the end of these stories is palpable throughout & painful to experience & behold.

I still think Tom Wingo's a wonderful storyteller & an ineffectual chickenshit - that's what makes him tragic, I suppose. I still identify with his sister, Savannah, craziness & all. & I enjoyed this book yet again. It's always good to visit old friends.
Show Less




0553381547 / 9780553381542
Page: 0.6093 seconds