Pat Conroy is a Citadel graduate, and I was reading about, how "The Lords of Discipline" angered this institution. While I was familiar with Mr. Conroy's works, and have read quite a few, this bit of information was a "carrot" of motivation to spend time with this novel. All of his books I've at least liked, with most of them being loved, and this one is in the latter category. What it boils down to, is the author's ability to develop characters, and "paint a picture" so eloquently. Good fiction follows closely to the truth, and I have a feeling based on Conroy's experience at the academy, that this could be describing what his time was like. At the same time, he is able to weave in various characters that have impact, along with changing directions perfectly. You never know what is expected.
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First of all, the main character is Will Mclean. He is from Georgia, and now a student at the fabled "Institute", in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. You follow his struggles, and intimately get to know him. In fact, there are parts of him that anyone will identify with, and he describes the angst of youth, love, and life in generally so accurately. He is on a "Honor Court," that has to make tough decisions regarding fellow students, and of course there is the plebe system. You read about "Hell Night," and all of the hazing, that is quite common at military academies. I'm not going to give anything away here, but you will be shocked to a degree, by some of the activity that goes along in this book.
Will does what anyone would do in a tough situation. He and his roommates, truly do become a "band of brothers." Along with Mark, Tradd, and "Pig", they form a bond that is an essence, another family of sorts. They go through academic challenges and other ones together, and also investigate the institution. There is a secret group called "The Ten," and it has committed "injustices." Will has to help support the first black plebe at the school, under his advisor called "The Bear." He's a unique character all by himself, and the Commandant Durrell is quite fascinating as well. These men have seen battle fields, and are now expecting to raise, the next group of "America's soldiers" as Vietnam wages on.
There are places in this book, that will have you howling with laughter. At the same time, you might shed a tear, because you identify with Will and his friends so well. Also, you will shake your head, and question the difference between right and wrong. A lot of us have a "established line" for this, but there is a lot of gray area. Sometimes you have to challenge this, and Conroy is able to do this very well. I also like how he described every facet of the "Institution," and the city of Charleston. This plays prominent parts in the story, and I could picture this old town on the harbor so well, even though I've yet to visit. That takes talent, and I look forward to spending time there.
This is without a doubt, a classic book that should be read by all. Its an emotional roller coaster, and fraught with danger throughout. I had a difficult time putting this book down, and I like the way that it ends. There is a shocker close to the end, that had me pretty tore up, but at the same time it leads to valuable lessons. Pat Conroy delivers the goods, and I'm happy to give it five stars for a rating. This is without a doubt one of the best books I've read, and while I put it just below his other riveting "The Prince of Tides," its very close with regards to quality, character development, and pacing. You will be along for a ride that conveys many emotions, but its one worthy of your time.
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