“This is the story of a destructive family relationship in which a violent father abuses his wife and children. Henry Wingo is a shrimper who fishes the seas off the South Carolina coast and regularly squanders what little money he amasses in farcical business schemes; his beautiful wife, Lila, is both his victim and a manipulative and guilt-inflicting mother.
Twins, brother and sister, are at the center of this family saga. The story is narrated by one of the children, Tom Wingo, a middle-aged man with a wife and three young daughters who has recently lost his job as a high school English teacher and football coach. Tom alternately recalls his growing-up years on isolated Melrose Island, then switches to the present in Manhattan, where his twin sister and renowned poet, Savannah, is recovering from a suicide attempt. Tom agrees to go to New York City, where Savannah lives, to look after her until she is well again. Before Tom leaves his home in South Carolina, he learns that his wife is having an affair. One secret at the heart of this tale is the fate of their older brother Luke; we know he is dead, but the circumstances are slowly revealed. Also kept veiled is "what happened on the island that day,'' a grisly scene of horror, rape and carnage that eventually explains much of the sorrow, pain and emotional alienation endured by the Wingo siblings. Conroy deftly manages a large cast of characters and a convoluted plot, although he undermines his credibility through a device by which Tom tells the Wingo family saga to Savannah's psychiatrist. Some readers may find here a pale replica of Robert Penn Warren's powerful evocation of the Southern myth; others may see resemblances to John Irving's baroque imaginings. Most, however, will be swept along by Conroy's felicitous, often poetic prose, his ironic comments on the nature of man and society, his passion for the marshland country of the South and his skill with narrative.
I read Conroy's novel with enjoyment and not a little admiration at the imagination that created this family. The more I learn about the author I find that some of his inspiration for this fiction was based in real-life experience. That does not detract from the enjoyment of this well-told tale.”