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Book Cover Image: The Prince of Tides by Pat ConroyTitle: The Prince of Tides

Author: Pat Conroy

Narrator: Frank Muller

Length of Audiobook: 22 hours, 42 minutes

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “In his most brilliant and powerful novel, Pat Conroy tells the story of Tom Wingo, his twin sister, Savannah, and the dark and violent past of the family into which they were born.

Set in New York City and the lowcountry of South Carolina, the novel opens when Tom, a high school football coach whose marriage and career are crumbling, flies from South Carolina to New York after learning of his twin sister’s suicide attempt. Savannah is one of the most gifted poets of her generation, and both the cadenced beauty of her art and the jumbled cries of her illness are clues to the too-long-hidden story of her wounded family. In the paneled offices and luxurious restaurants of New York City, Tom and Susan Lowenstein, Savannah’s psychiatrist, unravel a history of violence, abandonment, commitment, and love. And Tom realizes that trying to save his sister is perhaps his last chance to save himself.

With passion and a rare gift of language, the author moves from present to past, tracing the amazing history of the Wingos from World War II through the final days of the war in Vietnam and into the 1980s, drawing a rich range of characters: the lovable, crazy Mr. Fruit, who for decades has wordlessly directed traffic at the same intersection in the southern town of Colleton; Reese Newbury, the ruthless, patrician land speculator who threatens the Wingos’ only secure worldly possession, Melrose Island; Herbert Woodruff, Susan Lowenstein’s husband, a world-famous violinist; Tolitha Wingo, Savannah’s mentor and eccentric grandmother, the first real feminist in the Wingo family.”

Thoughts: 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 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.

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