The Prince of Tides

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Pat Conroy’s THE PRINCE OF TIDES combines the best elements of Southern storytelling with a powerful family saga that stretches from World War II to the present day. At its center is the remarkable Wingo family: Henry Wingo, a shrimp fisherman with a violent temper and a talent for losing money; his wife, Lila, a proud, beautiful woman whose social ambitions lead her to deny the cycle of abuse that is destroying her family; and their three children, Luke, Savannah, and Tom, whose adult lives will bear the marks of their strange childhood. The story’s setting is the coastal town of Colleton, South Carolina, a picturesque community marred by bigotry and social snobbery and brought to life by Conroy with a colorful cast of characters.

The framework for the story is provided by Savannah’s suicide attempt and long history of mental illness, as Tom leaves South Carolina and a faltering marriage for his sister’s New York home and a series of meetings with her psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein. For Dr. Lowenstein, Tom Wingo holds the key to her patient’s illness, and she persuades him to describe the childhood that Savannah has largely blocked from her memory. It is a process that awakens old wounds for Tom as well, even as it provides him with a chance to reassess his own life and make a final break with the past.

There is a hint of both Mark Twain and John Irving in Tom’s reminiscences, as Conroy flavors the harrowing moments of...

(The entire section is 464 words.)