“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call. “
Twenty-three years after stumbling across The Prince of Tides at the library in my hometown of Perry, Florida, I can still recite the opening lines by heart. It is a novel that I love to revisit.
My mom and I fled an abusive household and took refuge with my grandparents. While my mom went back to school to learn a trade to support us, my grandparents went to work on me. They gave me unconditional love, a sense of where I come from and a love of storytelling.
I did not grow up in a family of readers. The Prince of Tides is one of the first novels I read that was not mandatory for school. The suffering of the characters and their secrets of abuse spoke to me, as did the coastal landscape which becomes a character itself in the novel. For me, the heart of the novel is the complexity of the human experience and the hope for redemption. Tom Wingo begins a journey to New York, believing that he will help his sister who has attempted suicide. He ends up freeing the demons of his own past.
Like many writers I had a high school English teacher who encouraged me to write. It was the first time I’d been told I could do anything well related to academics. So I decided that I would major in public relations and write press releases and video scripts — believing that writers lived in New York or Paris or if they were from the South they were eccentric alcoholics who lived in run down mansions. That really was my world view. Pat Conroy helped to change all of that.
The Prince of Tides presented real characters in a time and place I knew well. While I’m not from South Carolina, I am from the Panhandle of Florida and the beautiful scenes of marsh, shrimp boats and the rhythm of coastal tides were my world. So too were the hurts and hopes of the people in his novel. Reading it for that very first time, I felt that I had finally found art that was accessible.
It would take me another ten years until I started writing my own stories — stories inspired by ones I heard as a child in my grandparent’s living room. But The Prince of Tides first introduced me the power of connecting emotions to beautiful writing, mystical settings and unforgettable characters.
“He’s a gambler at best, a con artist at worst, ” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons.
While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her that he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins.
But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.
Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, has this to say about Man in the Blue Moon: “Michael Morris has been one of my favorite Southern writers. His new novel is reason for great celebration–a beautifully wrought portrayal of small-town Southern life. Buy it. Read it.”
Michael Morris is a Southern Book Circle Award finalist and the author of the acclaimed novels A Place Called Wiregrass (a Christy Award winner) and Slow Way Home, named one of the best novels of the year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A Florida native, he now lives with his wife in Alabama.