This is the second time I’ve read Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, but I can’t remember exactly when was the first. The novel was published in 1986 when I was six, and the movie came out in 1991 when I was eleven. I’m guessing I read it sometime when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school.

It’s a heavy novel, and not just for a tween. WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD (which seems somewhat silly for a 27 year old book, but still). The story takes places in two times, the bulk of which is the childhood of Luke, Tom and Lila Wingo. Tom narrates that story from the present, which of course was the 1980s, by telling it to his sister’s psychologist after his sister has once again tried to take her life. Their childhood was a disaster, and they lived at the mercy of their father, who beat them and their mother, and that mother, who felt she sold herself short by marrying a shrimper. There’s also sexual assault and a very graphic rape. I found myself slowing down my pace of reading as I knew the rape scene was drawing near. It’s really hard to read, even in my 30s. I remember how affected I was reading it 20 years ago, too. It’s one the first grown up books I ever read, and it shocked me into the understanding that books could be about horrible things and still be beautiful.

Conroy’s a master in this book. I usually don’t like novels that are full of too much description because those pieces feel tacked on. Conroy makes them a key part of the narrative. It makes it a very southern book, even when Tom is talking about being a fish out of water in New York City. It’s one of those books that is hard to get out of my brain when writing – I just turned in something the other day that had more lyricism in it than my typical stuff. It’s not necessarily a bad thing since I’m not copying him, but it forced me to stretch a little with my writing.

I didn’t remember everything – how Luke dies, for example. Reading that chunk of the book was like coming to the book fresh all over again. I stayed up very late the last two nights because I was sucked in by the story all over again, the good parts and bad, and to be amazed at what one writer could do with a language we share.

I’m wavering on watching the movie again. I know it’s a different story, more tilted to Tom’s time in New York than in South Carolina, and the near deletion of Luke was a big disappoint since he’s such a big figure in the novel. But that’s the way the movies go.

I have a six-hour flight coming up. Maybe I’ll watch it then. Or, more likely, work in making sure I hit 52 books by January 1. Fifty down, two more to go.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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