The Prince of Tides

The Prince of Tides, written by Pat Conroy, published in 1986, spans three generations of Wingos. 

The story is told by Tom, the youngest son of Henry Wingo, who owns and operates a shrimp boat, and Lila Wingo, a housewife who aspires to a much higher social standing, and never lets her husband forget that she married a "loser".

The Prince of Tides begins with Tom at home with his wife, Sallie, and their three daughters.  A dreaded visit from his mother brings news that his twin sister, Savannah, has slashed her wrists - again - and is in a hospital in New York.

Unlike Tom, and their older brother, Luke, Savannah couldn't get out of South Carolina fast enough.

She moves to New York soon after graduating from high school, and has become an accomplished poet, using her poetry to help her manage her painful past.

Childhood traumas too much for her to cope with have caused frequent hallucinations and lapses in memory beginning when she was very young. She once told Tom she needed him to be her memory for her.

Henry is often mean to his wife and children, but never on the shrimp boat. He is happy there, and the children know they have nothing to fear from their father while on the boat.

Luke is dead from the beginning of the story, something the family never talks about. In fact, they never discuss anything that is deeply troubling to them. We do not learn the cause of his death until near the end of the book.

Tom goes to New York, and learns from Savannah's psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein, that Savannah was very close to death this time, and is still unable to communicate.

Dr. Lowenstien asks Tom to tell her all he can about the events in Savannah's life, so that she can be better able to help her. 

In flashbacks told in great detail, we learn, along with Dr. Lowenstein, about the Wingo children. As Tom relives these events, he comes to realize he has been as incapable of love as his parents.

The same night his mother tells him about Savannah, his wife tells him she is having an affair. His parents were divorced by this time, and his mother had remarried. He does not want that for himself and his family. He still cares for Sallie, but is well aware that he isn't the husband he should be.

Tom is a teacher and a coach, but has been fired because of his own nervous breakdown. He claims to hate New York, but with no job, and his wife about to leave him, he is glad to spend the summer in Savannah's New York apartment.

Savannah begins to improve--and Tom begins falling in love with Dr. Susan Lowenstein.

Tom calls his mother and warns her that he is about to reveal to Savannah's doctor the darkest, most awful secret of all, the one that has not been spoken of by any of them since the day it happened.....

The Prince of Tides was challenged by at least one mother of a student in an advanced placement literature class. She found the book "offensive", mentioning a graphic rape scene as just one of the things she objected to.

She did admit she didn't read the whole book.  That's typical. People who complain often do not read the book. They focus on something they don't like, and miss the story.

That would be okay, except for the fact that they do their best to see to it that everyone else misses it, too.

The Prince of Tides was made into a movie in 1991, starring Barbra Streisand as Dr. Susan Lowenstein and Nick Nolte as Tom Wingo.

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