Though this is Pat Conroy's first novel, he certainly has promise as an author. His descriptions of locations and appearances are vivid and engaging. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same for his characters.
Ben Meecham, a high-school senior, is coping with the physical and mental abuse of his Marine pilot father, Bull. His mother, a Southern Belle named Lilian, is sweet and kind, but not without faults of her own. The daughter, Mary Anne, only one year younger than Ben, is ugly and quite cynical. Yet they live together, in an uncertain harmony, with younger children Matt and Karen.
The problem with these characters is not Mr. Conroy's ability to create them as living, breathing beings. It is, rather, the lack of depth he has given them. After reading the novel, one does not really care about what happens to the central characters, and that is a definate problem.
Likewise, the events that surround them seem to be self-serving and only present to cause the desired outcome. Being in a military family, the Meechams are used to moving throughout the South at a moment's notice, leaving friends and family behind. Mr. Conroy introduces a rape, without ever resolving the cause or effect on the community, purely with the purpose of creating an ironic twist in the plot: Ben's best friend leaves him instead of the other way around.
Bull Meecham's eventual death, likewise, seems to serve no purpose but to justify Ben's ascent to manhood. The effect on the rest of the family is rattled off with a mere few pages, most of which describe funeral arrangements.
Nonetheless, Mr. Conroy's ability to create a living, breathing world that certainly engages the reader is more than enough to warrant reading this novel. Despite its obvious faults, it is quite enjoyable.