Literary First Love – Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

I was a pretty good kid, a rule follower who didn’t want to rock the boat. The only time I really made eye contact with my teachers was when I was talking with them about some book I loved. If I was going to get in trouble, it was for reading when I should’ve been paying attention. I was adept at hiding a book behind my notebook, thinking I was pulling one over on my teacher. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure they knew what I was doing– they were just glad to see one of their students reading by choice.

One of those books was The Prince Of Tides, a book I  discovered the spring of my senior year of high school.  I read  it during class  and in my bedroom and at the dinner table and in the passenger seat of my best friend’s car and anywhere else I could sneak  a few minutes to immerse myself in the story. I remember the boy I had a huge crush on glancing down at the book’s  cover from his seat in front of me. “Why do you keep reading that book?” he inquired. I tried to put into words how much the book meant to me, the feelings it created inside of me, my face– I’m sure– glowing as I gushed. The blank look I got in return told me that things were probably not going to work out for us. Because he didn’t understand the effect this story had on me.

I was carried away by Pat Conroy’s writing– the characters, the setting, the plot– all worked together to immerse me in a setting that was familiar yet mystical. As a North Carolina native,  I knew the South Carolina coast, had been there many times. But I didn’t know it the way he described it, and I certainly didn’t know any families like the Wingoes. It made me look closer at the people I thought I knew, made me wonder what family secrets they were hiding. Through that book, Pat Conroy taught me that it was possible to write about the familiar in a magical way. He made me hope that one day, I might do the same, or try to.

Books, like people, have different impacts on our lives. Some effect us forever. Some are utterly forgettable. Different books have different impacts on different people, based on where they are in life when they read them. I’ve talked to many a person since I read Prince Of Tides who didn’t like it at all. But for me, it was a book that seized me from page one and didn’t loosen its grip until that last scene when Tom is driving over the bridge, having made his choices. It is a book that has stayed with me to this day, a literary first love of the highest order.

Marybeth’s third novel, THE GUEST BOOK, is this month’s book club selection.  You can read the first 40 pages here.

When Macy Dillon was five years old her father encouraged her to draw a picture in the guestbook of a Carolina beach house. The next year, Macy returned to discover a drawing by an unidentified little boy on the facing page. Over the next eleven years the children continue to exchange drawings … until tragedy ends visits to the beach house altogether. During her final trip to Sunset, Macy asks her anonymous friend to draw her one last picture and tells him where to hide the guest book in hopes that one day she will return to find it—and him. Twenty-five years after that first picture, Macy is back at Sunset Beach—this time toting a broken family and a hurting heart. One night, alone by the ocean, Macy asks God to help her find the boy she never forgot, the one whose beautiful pictures touched something deep inside of her. Will she ever find him? And if she does, will the guestbook unite them or merely be the relic of a lost childhood?


About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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4 Responses to Literary First Love – Marybeth Whalen

  1. zibilee July 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm #


    This is one of my favorite books too! Actually, I have read most of Conroy’s books, and this one is my favorite. I am glad to know this little tidbit about you. We have something else in common!

  2. Megan Sayer July 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Oh, I’m excited! The Prince of Tides was one of my literary first loves as well – or at least, early loves – but for exactly the opposite reasons. I’ve met very few people who have read it, and none who enjoyed it, and after a while it became one of those dark secrets you just don’t tell people for fear of what they’ll think of you. I’m sure we all have novels like that. It can’t be just me.
    So Thank you for “coming out of the closet” on that one Marybeth, you’ve made me happy to know that I’m not alone.

  3. Kati W. July 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I also love The Prince of Tides! I left it behind on an airplane when I was about 3/4 of the way through it and had to immediately buy another copy so I could find out what happened!


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