Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me – The Red Sox Provide Icing on the Cake!

This past weekend, I celebrated a milestone birthday (Hint – it was not Sweet Sixteen!). My family had asked me how I wanted to celebrate, and I told them I preferred a low-key celebration with family. So, earlier in the week, I enjoyed a wonderful dinner and evening with family at the home of my son, Ti, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. My son, Scott was able to join us, along with my daughter-in-law, Raluca, and my darling grandchildren, Laurelin and Amet. My sister, Diane, had flown in from Tampa for the occasion; she surprised and delighted us all by providing a dinner of boiled Maine lobsters. Yes! It was a wonderful time of being together.

The Red Sox must have learned of the special occasion, because they very thoughtfully invited the Yankees to come to town as the denouement of my birthday celebration. I did not want to seem ungrateful, so I made time in my busy schedule to stop by Fenway Park on Friday evening and Sunday evening – just to let the Red Sox know that I appreciated all that they were doing to make my birthday a memorable one.

Friday night’s game was an instant classic – with the Red Sox unexpectedly scoring 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to beat their former bete noire, Mariano Rivera. Oft-maligned Red Sox centerfielder, Cocoa Crisp, slapped a triple down the right field line, and later scored the winning run. Jonathan Papelbon aptly pitched a scoreless 9th inning for the save – completing the passing of the torch from Rivera to Papelbon as the most feared closer in baseball.

Behind the scenes, I was having a marvelous time. Because of my affiliation with the Autograph Alley program at Fenway Park, I often end up sitting in the section reserved for the family and friends of the visiting team. So, I spent much of Friday night’s game in the company of several rabid Yankee fans. My friend, Casimir Deronnete, had accompanied me to the game. He arrived in full Yankees regalia – pinstriped shirt, Yankees cap and a New York City in-your-face attitude! Casimir was born in the Republic of Haiti, but many of his formative years were spent in Brooklyn, so I suppose he can be forgiven if his sympathies now lie with the Bronx Bombers. During several key moments in the course of the game – as the Yankees built an apparently insurmountable lead of 6-2 – Casimir turned to me and say: “How are you feeling? Are you alright?” My hint that his solicitous concern for my welfare was disingenuous came when I noticed the grin on his face that reminded me of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”!

Casimir found common cause with several others in our section who were also sporting pinstriped habiliments. I recall at one point looking at the assembled Yankees fans and spouting the cliché: “He who laughs last, laughs best!” Sometimes even a cliché can prove to be prophetic. It turned out that we were in the midst of several individuals who accompany Yankee second baseman, Robinson Cano, when the team is on the road. We spent several innings with his personal body guard and his personal trainer, both former ball players from Cano’s native Dominican Republic. I understand; anyone who is anybody needs to have an entourage! We all spent the remainder of the game swapping good-natured barbs across the Athens - Sparta chasm that is the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry.

On Sunday morning, I was at Copley Place Mall in Boston’s Back Bay before the shops opened for the day. I ran into Yankee reliever, Luis Vizcaino. I knew by his demeanor, his ubiquitous cell phone and his tasteful “bling-bling” that he was a ballplayer, but I initially thought he was Robinson Cano. He set me straight and told me who he was, and we soon discovered that we know in common my Dominican friend, Davey Valdez, one of several baseball-playing brothers. Luis was looking to buy a suit. When I asked him what kind of a suit, he replied: “A traveling suit!” With those parameters clearly in mind, I brought Luis to meet the staff at the Hugo Boss store. They opened a few minutes early for him and promised me that they would treat him well. I don’t know what kind of suit he ended up buying for his trip out of town, but the next time I saw him he had donned his Yankee pinstripes and was standing on the mound at Fenway as part of a parade of Yankee pitchers who yielded a total of 27 runs to the Red Sox over the course of the weekend. Along the way, the piece de resistance of last night’s game was four consecutive homeruns swatted by Messieurs Ramirez, Drew, Lowell and Varitek. This feat of “four in a row” had never before been accomplished by a Red Sox team, and only four other times in all of baseball history.

The Yankee line-up remains one of the most fearsome in all of Major League Baseball, and I expect a season-long dogfight for first place in the American League East. But for one brief, shining weekend in New England, they were complicit in allowing the Red Sox to throw for me one of the best birthday celebrations one could imagine – aside from that wonderful, quiet evening I had spent earlier in the week playing Grampy. (2-year-old Amet calls me “Gimpy” – go figure! And he has not even seen me on the tennis court yet.) Life is sweet!


Someone at Google Has a Marvelous Sense of Humor!

Sometimes we take ourselves way too seriously. This is clearly not true of our friends at Google.

My friend, Mark Sohmer, is a regular reader of, and contributor to, The White Rhino Report. This morning, Mark forwarded the following suggestions, which I followed. It took 30 seconds and brought a smile to my face. I smiled because I love the fact the Google as able and willing to have some fun while providing valuable services. I also smiled because the route to Paris, as they recommend it here – goes through Boston!

Enjoy. Thanks Mark!


Go to

Click on maps.

Click on "get directions."

Type in "New York, NY" and "Paris, France" in the upper-left, and then click on the "get directions" button.

Once it loads, check out the 24th direction.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hearing from a Soldier in Iraq - A Response to Last Week's Posting

After I posted the article last week about West Point graduates leaving the Army, the posting elicited a heart-felt response from Iraq. This comment was offered anonymously by a West Point grad currently serving as an Infantry Platoon Leader in Baghdad. Since many readers of The White Rhino Report may not have had a chance to read this comments, I offer them below for your consideration.


We're getting out because we have no life outside of the army. West Point wasn't much of a social life, now the army, even when we're home we're gone 3 to 4 months of the year that we're back at base training at NTC, JRTC, and other various locations. Army posts aren't exactly located at the most prime locations for the most part. Fort Polk doesn't have many places for social interaction.

And now, I can plan on being deployed for 15 months with a year back home, of which I'll be spending 3 to 4 of those 12 months training in the middle of nowhere with my guys. The only saving grace of the army is the intrinsic rewards. I realize that being an infantry platoon leader in combat will most likely be the most rewarding, challenging exciting job I will ever have. Leading young men in combat, seeing how the civilians in Baghdad react to us. Being able to make a bigger difference in this world than 99% of all Americans my age group is very rewarding. However, there are very few extrinsic rewards for being in the army. We live by army posts in less than desirable locations, I hardly ever get to see my family, there are very few perks to being an officer in the army(no O club, no real special status in society(I could have gone to law or medical school and both those professions seem to get more respect and perks than being an army officer), substandard on base housing, if even available, the vast majority of the population doesn't care about the sacrifices we make(people in the 20-30 year old demographic don't give a shit for our sacrifice, except those with friends or family in the miltiary, and many have told me that I'm a sucker(which I kind of take as a compliment) for making so many sacrifices for our country and getting so little in return, the only people who give us the respect I feel all soldiers deserve is men and women over 40 from what I've seen, which feels good but it would be nice if 24 year old women felt the same way, I get paid about half what I could as a civilian and work twice as hard under substantially harsher working conditions(this is probably the least important factor, at least for me)and those who are in charge of us have never really shared the sacrifices that all soldiers are being asked to make on a continuous basis.

I figure all soldiers who have done a combat tour or even served a day in uniform have done more for their country than about 97-98% of this countries residents ever will, so after serving our country for a certain amount of time(both in combat and at home training others) why shouldn't we be allowed to get out and live our lives for ourselves. Live where we want, get paid what we can, and live under much easier conditions. The day when my largest concern is the high price of car insurance(or whatever crap normal people worry about) and not getting shot in the head by a sniper will be a pretty good day. If I get killed tomorrow in the streets of Baghdad I feel like the only people who will suffer or be proud of my sacrifice is my family and friends. It's not like my parents have another son, and to the majority of the people in the US, I'll just be another number(except to those Americans who have a family member in the military and a relatively few others who understand the sacrifice), and nobody will even care. Britney Spears 2nd marriage will get way more attention than my death. In today's society, our sacrifice and service isn't as respected or appreciated as I see it should be. You would most likely feel the same way if you came out with my platoon and saw my soldiers on the 20th day of a 30 day clearing operation dodging bullets and still doing whatever is necessary to accomplish their mission and then see the relative apathy I see when we go home.

I apologize if this isn't concise or well thought out but it's been a long day and this is not the most important thing I'm going to do today so it gets less attention.

West Point grad, Infantry Platoon Leader
Baghdad, Iraq



I want to thank you for your service to our country, and for taking the time to speak to us from your heart.


I invite you to use this space to express your support for this soldier and his comrades for their sacrifices.


Our Wounded Warriors Speak - MSNBC Interviews

My friend, Jack Colletti, is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. This morning he forwarded me an e-mail from his friend, Matt, that stopped me in my tracks.

In the wake of the tragic murders at Virginia Tech, the unfathomable carnage this week in Baghdad, and the mounting death toll among our troops in Iraq, it is easy for us to succumb to a creeping numbness and a paralyzing compassion fatigue. It is hard for us to think about the suffering on a human level – person by person and family by family. The link provided below to MSNBC provides a window into a remarkable series of interviews with wounded soldiers who tell their stories of struggle and survival and hope.

Like Bob and Lee Woodruff, whose story has helped to personalize the results of IED explosions and other forms of violence in Iraq, the stories of the three wounded veterans offered in the link below are simultaneously haunting and uplifting.

As I watched and listened to these interviews, I was moved to tears and to a feeling of great compassion. But feeling compassion for the men and women who have sacrificed their health while serving their country is not enough. That compassion must fuel concrete action.

I was in the audience this past Friday evening in Rye, NY when Bob and Lee Woodruff came home from their nationwide media tour. They held a book signing event as a way to say thank you to their neighbors for all of their support over the course of the last fifteen months. At the end of the Q&A session in the auditorium of Rye High School, I was able to ask the last question. My question that night is an apt question for us to ask ourselves as we watch the videos in the MSNBC link:

“Bob and Lee, I want to invite you to challenge us as we prepare to leave this auditorium. The fact that we have read your book and heard your story means that we have a level of understanding that most Americans lack. We now know the needs that exist for finding better ways to treat veterans who are suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury. And that increased level of awareness gives us an increased level of responsibility to do something in response. What actions – beyond the obvious one of contributing money to the foundation you have created - would you like us to take as we leave here this evening?”

One of the answers that Bob and Lee gave was to find a way to visit with a wound soldier, airman or Marine. Many of the wounded do not have regular visitors, and would welcome someone to talk with them, play cards with them, help champion their cause in looking for work, etc. I trust that as you take the time to watch these MSNBC videos, you will watch and ask yourself: “What can I do to help?”

Here is Matt’s introduction to the MSNBC piece:

I think everyone can benefit from the strength of these veterans'. No compliment I can write can amplify their sacrifice.

Scroll about halfway down the page and click the link on the right "Scars from

Thank you, Matt and Jack.

If you are moved to action by what you have experienced, you may want to consider making a contribution to the Bob Woodruff Family Fund for Traumatic Brain Injury:


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

West Point Graduates Leaving the Army – Opening a Dialogue

Today’s Boston Globe featured these headlines:

West Point grads exit service at high rate

The topic of Service Academy graduates leaving military service before they have put in a full career as officers has been a point of discussion and contention for many years. The mounting pressure of the prolonged and recurrent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan has brought the simmering debate to a boil once again.

It is my intent, in sharing the link below to today’s Globe feature article, to open a dialogue about this issue. Many regular readers of and contributors to The White Rhino Report are themselves West Point, Annapolis, Air Force Academy and Coast Guard Academy graduates, so I know that there will be no shortage of opinions.

In this brief posting, let me lay out in sketchy form some of my own thoughts, offered as an interested outsider – meaning that I myself am not a service academy graduate. I feel that I can be bold enough to comment on the issue, however, because professionally, I work with many senior executives who have served with distinction in the military. In addition, I am being asked more and more to advise junior military officers on their career options.

Here, in brief, are some preliminary reactions to today’s article:

  • Many of the Service Academy graduates I see opting to leave military service at the end of their initial commitment are wired more entrepreneurially than their peers who elect to remain as military officers.
  • Those who choose to leave after their initial commitment are deeply influenced by a desire to provide for their families a more stabile and predictable life – the ability to plan for having and raising a family, choices of where to live, realistic career path for a non-military spouse. Other family-related quality-of-life issues play a significant role in the decision to walk away from the opportunity for a longer military career.
  • There is a physical, mental and spiritual weariness that sets in after multiple deployments to a war zone, and many leave to find a more stable and healthy career path.
  • The military has done a very poor job in adjusting to a more sophisticated officer corps. Human Resource policies and (mis)management within the military often ends up alienating fine officers who might have chosen to prolong their careers if they felt that they had been treated with respect and even a modicum of consideration.
  • The private sector is beginning to recognize the unique value proposition that battle-tested Junior Military Officers bring to the table, so these JMO’s who are considering leaving the military have many more attractive options open to tem than was the case for earlier generations of JMO’s.

FYI – I noted an error in the Globe article. In two places, the author made the error of saying that West Point graduates are commission as 1st lieutenants – rather than 2nd lieutenants.

I look forward to hearing your opinions on these matters.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I See Deaf People – Violinist Joshua Bell as a Busker in the D.C. Metro

It is ironic that I became aware of this remarkable article on last Sunday’s Washington Post through the kindness of my friend, Jason Turgeon, who toils for a Federal agency – the Environmental Protection Agency. The article recounts a recent experiment that placed world-renowned concert violinist, Joshua Bell, playing incognito, at the exit to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro stop in the heart of D.C. – at the nexus of where many federal agencies and departments have their headquarters.

The article, written with superb insight and artistry by Washington Post staff writer, Gene Weingarten, is enlightening and disturbing on many levels. The reactions of the busy commuters on that busy morning serve as a microcosm and metaphor for the insidious effects of the busyness of our quotidian existence.

I implore and advise you to take a few moments to read Weigarten’s brilliant piece. There are several reasons why I offer this advice. It is rare to find this level of literary sophistication and well-considered analysis in today’s metropolitan newspapers – even those that perennially take home Pulitzer Prizes. This article should serve for each of us as a cautionary tale, warning us to slow down and “smell the coffee,” – or, more aptly – listen to the delicious syncopated sound of the coffee percolating. Finally, it may embolden you to seek out a live or recorded performance by Joshua Bell and his ilk – artists of talent and inspiration who offer us a respite from the rat race, and who, through their artistry, open for us a window into transcendence.

We just have to be wise enough to put no the brakes, slow down and accept the pearls that are being offered.

Thanks, Jason



Thursday, April 05, 2007

Nike Is Betting on Dice-K Mania – Making a Pitch for the Japanese Fans

In one hour, Daisuke Matsuzaka – “Dice-K” in popular parlance – will hurl his first pitch in a championship game for the Boston Red Sox. Nike, which has made many millions of dollars by keeping its finger firmly on the pulse of the sports public, is expecting the Dice-K phenomenon to be huge.

My friend, Chris Tashjian, a passionate and knowledgeable Red Sox fan, just made me aware of this TV commercial that is airing on Japanese TV. It is too good not to share.

I do not think that I am overstating the case when I say that this may be the most-anticipated and most widely covered first pitch in the history of Major League Baseball. This potentially changes everything – within the microcosm of Red Sox Nation and MLB.



David Mamet Takes on the Movie Business – Mini-Review of “Bambi vs. Godzilla”

David Mamet knows how to write – for the stage, for the screen and for reading audiences. His grasp of how to construct dialogue is second to none. “Glengarry Glen Ross,” won the Pulitzer Prize – and deservedly so. It is brilliant! I can’t remember how many times I have seen “The Spanish Prisoner,” and been astonished with each viewing at the way in which Mamet constructed the story. His play, “The Boston Marriage,” contains two hours of delicious verbal ripostes and counter-thrusts. I happened to catch an evening performance of the play at the Hasty Pudding Theater in Cambridge on a night when Mamet himself was in the audience.

Mamet’s latest literary project is his commentary on the current state of the movie industry: “Bambi vs. Godzilla – On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business.”

Steve Martin’s blurb on the dust jacket of the book, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, sums up beautifully the impact that this book will have among Hollywood insiders: “David Mamet is supremely talented. He is a gifted writer and observer of society and its characters. I’m sure he will be able to find work somewhere, somehow, just no longer in the movie business.”

Mamet takes the reader behind the scenes of how a movie gets written, shot, edited, marketed and distributed. He gives his unvarnished personal opinion about actors, directors, producers and films he has appreciated – and those he disdains. The book contains a wonderful Appendix that is a compendium of thumbnail descriptions of each of the movies he mentions in the body of the book.

In the course of commenting about the status of the movie industry as business and as art, he offers some illuminating insights into the state of our society:

“The absence of a historical and universally acknowledged authority to which one may pledge fealty and against which one may rebel creates factionalism: the right moves toward fascism, the left toward chaos. Democracy – in extremis – seems capable of devolving to either tyranny or civil war, and America, maddened by unimaginable prosperity and safety, incomprehensibly powerful, and bereft of threats, splits down the middle on the issue of definition.

Is the good person one who will not tolerate a president’s lies about sex or one who will not tolerate a president’s lies about war? (Pages 33-34)

Touché! Mamet does not pull his punches, and both ends of the political spectrum are fair game for his analysis. The same goes for his deconstruction of the movie business. I walked away from reading this book with a deeper appreciation for the best films and film makers – and a better understanding of what makes/made them so good. The fact that Mamet is – to employ a technical sociological term - a participant/observer in moviedom, adds weight, texture, immediacy and intrigue to his commentary about the industry that both feeds him and frustrates him.

We are blessed to have Mamet - still in his prime - and still shining the light of his observation and analysis upon dark corners of our world that need to be brought out of the shadows.



A Scientist Discusses His Faith – Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project

My friend, Rick Mavrovich, just made me aware of an article I feel compelled to share with the readers of The White Rhino Report.

Regardless of your faith – or lack thereof – I think you will find this commentary by Dr. Francis Collins to be worth your time. He started out as an atheist and as a medical student and physician, was forced by his patients to address issues and questions that science alone could not address. In this commentary, posted this morning on, he shares a brief narrative of his spiritual journey. Coming as they do during this week leading up to Easter, I found his words timely and provocative.

I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views.

As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God's language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God's plan.

Enjoy reading the rest of Dr. Collins’ comments as you click on the link below.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

IBM Translates Tragedy on the Battlefield into a Triumph of Compassion

I have breaking news that I need to share. I just got off the phone with my friend, Arlen Ecker, whose nephew, Sgt. Mark Ecker of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, was wounded a few weeks ago in Iraq in an IED explosion. Young Ecker eventually lost both legs below the knee, and is undergoing extensive treatment and rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Sgt. Ecker’s father is a longtime employee of IBM. Shortly after Ecker received the news of his son’s injuries, word began to spread throughout the IBM company grapevine. The follow excerpts are drawn from an ABC News story, a link to which appears below:

"It became a human interest story within IBM. The e-mail list of people that wanted to hear about Mark and were concerned about Mark kept on growing and growing and growing to the point where people very high up at IBM became aware of the situation."

The next thing he knew, IBM Chairman and CEO Samuel J. Palmisano's office was calling to inform him of the donation.

"It made me proud to be an IBMer and proud of IBM. I was just amazed and shocked. The sense of pride is overwhelming," Ecker said.

IBM is donating 10,000 copies of software that allows instantaneous voice translation between English and Arabic. The company is also donating 1,000 laptops or handheld devices to run the software and giving the Department of Defense technical help installing the program. The U.S. government is reviewing laws to see if it can accept the gift.”

In subsequent events, Senator Kennedy and President Bush have stopped by Walter Reed to visit with Sgt. Ecker. It is my understanding that members of the Ecker family will be interviewed on CNN in the next day.

There were six of Ecker’s fellow soldiers injured with him in the explosion. Please keep each of these brave soldiers and their families in your prayers as they go through the grueling work of rehabilitation.

Above all, I urge you to use IBM’s example to think creatively about how all of us should be responding. The level of caring and generosity exhibited by IBM – from the Chairman and CEO down to Mr. Ecker’s co-workers - is newsworthy because it is unusual. Let’s use Big Blue’s outpouring of Red, White and Blue patriotism to spur on other companies, communities, organizations and neighborhoods to make concrete gestures of support to the men and women fighting abroad and to those returning from Iraq broken in body but unbowed in spirit.

Stay tuned for a posting tomorrow introducing two groups I recently became aware of that are reaching out to our troops in significant ways.


The Red Sox Season 2007 – A Rough Opening Day, Dice-K and Curt Shilling’s Blog

The more things change, the more they stay the same! The citizens of Red Sox Nation are already howling on the airwaves of WEEI that the hometown favorites are “ruinin’ my summah”! This after a 7-1 Opening Day shellacking at the hands of the bargain basement Kansas City Royals. Despite the Chicken Little prognostications, I am looking forward to an exciting six months at Fenway Park. Here are a few nuggets of why I can’t wait for the turnstiles on Yawkey Way to start turning:

“Dice-K” Matsuzaka will change the face of the Red Sox. Not only will he bring excitement on the field as he and Jason Varitek figure out how best to apportion the seven different pitches he has available in his arsenal of weapons, but the tsunami of Japanese media and fans that will wash up on Boston’s shore will add several new dimensions to the club and to the city. Hotels and restaurants around town are teaching their employees to speak rudimentary Japanese in anticipation of the thousands who are expected to come from the Land of the Rising Sun to see their rising native son on the mound at Fenway deliver his sinking fastball, curveball and inscrutable gyroball! The Red Sox have expanded the press box to accommodate the scribes who will cover the Fenway action on behalf of Japanese readers and viewers.

Curt Schilling, Red Sox Ace pitcher, is evolving the technology tools he uses to get his message directly to the fans of “The Nation.” In the past, in his persona as “Curt in the Car,” he has often called into WEEI during broadcasts to comment on issues that were being discussed – often on the Dennis and Callahan Show during drive-time in the mornings. This season, he has chosen to follow a tactic of disintermediation, bypassing D&C and going directly to the fans using his Blog, 38 Pitches.

My reading of the first few weeks of postings on 38 Pitches tells me that he intends to use the site to comment on his performance, discuss teammates, and talk about his plans for the future, as well as devoting a significant amount of time and space to answering questions that have been posed by readers of the Blog. Schilling’s foray into the Blogosphere has prompted a great deal of discussion among the Boston media, wondering if this is the harbinger of the end of the need for traditional sports columnists and beat writers. We shall see.

If Curt can continue to pitch as well as he writes, he should have a successful season for our Boys of Summer.


Go Sox!


Pat Conroy Is a Genius – Review of “Prince of Tides”

I have known of “Prince of Tides,” for many years, and enjoyed the film version that starred Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte. And I have enjoyed reading some of Pat Conroy’s other works – “Lords of Discipline,” “Beach Music” – but I had never picked up the novel, “Prince of Tides” until a few weeks ago. Am I glad I did! Conroy’s mastery of language and imagery make the book so much more satisfying than the movie. If all you know of “Prince of Tides” comes from having seen the story portrayed on the screen, it would be analogous to only knowing “Ode to Joy” from reading Schiller’s poem without ever having heard Beethoven’s music that brings the words to life and immortality in his majestic 9th Symphony.

I thought long and hard about this next statement, because it is a bold statement. I know of no American writer working today who uses words more beautifully and with greater emotional effect than Pat Conroy. His vast storehouse of vocabulary allows him to choose from a wide variety of brushstrokes as he paints indelible images of place and of persons who come alive and golden through the alchemy of his writing.

I invite you to eavesdrop on the Wingo family at sunset in the Carolina low country:

“’I have a surprise for you my darlings,’ our mother said as we watched a porpoise move towards the Atlantic through the still, metallic waters. We sat at the end of the floating dock and stretched our legs, trying to touch the water with our bare feet.

‘There’s something I want you to see. Something that will help you sleep. Look over there, children,’ she said, pointing out toward the horizon to the east.

It was growing dark on this long southern evening, and suddenly, at the exact point her finger had indicated, the moon lifted a forehead of stunning gold above the horizon, lifted straight out of filigreed, light-intoxicated clouds that lay on the skyline in attendant veils. Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold . . . The new gold of moon astonishing and ascendant, the depleted gold of sunset extinguishing itself in the long westward slide, it was the old dance of days in the Carolina marshes, the breathtaking death of days before the eyes of children, until the sun vanished, its final signature a ribbon of bullion strung across the tops of water oaks. The moon then rose quickly, rose like a bird from the water, from the trees, from the islands, and climbed straight up – gold, then yellow, then pale yellow, pale silver, silver-bright, then something miraculous, immaculate, and beyond silver, a color native only to southern nights.

We children sat transfixed before that moon our mother had called forth from the waters. When the moon had reached its deepest silver, my sister, Savannah, though only three, cried aloud to our mother, to Luke and me, to the river and the moon, ‘Oh, Mama, do it again!’ And I had my earliest memory.” (Pages 5-6)

The tale that Conroy tells of the wildly dysfunctional Wingo tribe is a heartrending story of five misfits struggling desperately to find their place in the world and within the twin microcosms of their family and their backwater town. It is a story of three children – all suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of the physical and emotional abuse heaped upon them by their mother and father – limping into adulthood in search of love and purpose and healing and hope.

Conroy’s insights into the effects of PTSD reflect the lessons learned from those who returned from Vietnam. In the case of the Wingo's, Luke actually went off to war and came back damaged. His twin younger siblings, Tom and Savannah, never left the U.S., but were no less victims of PTSD as a result of their parents’ abusive rage and deluded denial of reality.

Tom shows remarkable self-awareness and befuddlement in talking with his wife, Sallie. He has been fired from his job as a coach and their marriage is being held together by a thin and fraying cord:

“For several minutes we walked in silence, in the disturbing solitude that sometimes visits couples at the most incongruous times. It was not a new feeling for me; I had a limitless gift for turning even those sweet souls who loved me best into strangers.

I tried to fight my way back toward Sallie, tried to regain contact. ‘I haven’t figured everything out yet. I can’t figure out why I hate myself more than anyone else in the world. It doesn’t make sense to me. Even if Mom and Dad were monsters, I should have come out of it with some kind of respect for myself as a survivor, if nothing else. I should have at least come out of it honest, but I’m the most dishonest person I’ve ever met. I never know exactly how I feel about something. There’s always something secret hidden from me.’” (Pages 26-27)

I appreciate Conroy’s use of description and dialogue to give the reader a feel for the subterranean tensions and subtext that exist between two people shadow boxing as they take one another’s measure:

“When I looked up, Dr. Lowenstein was staring at me from the door of her office. She was expensively dressed, and lean. Her eyes were dark and unadorned. In the shadows of that room, with Vivaldi fading in sweet echoes, she was breathtakingly beautiful, one of those go-to-hell New York women with the incorruptible carriage of lionesses. Tall and black-haired, she looked as if she had been air-brushed with breeding and good taste.

‘Who is the Prince of Tides?’ she asked without introducing herself.

‘Why don’t you ask Savannah?’

‘I will when she’s able to speak to me. That might be some time,’ she answered, smoothing her jacket. ‘I’m sorry. I’m Dr. Lowenstein. You must be Tom.’

‘Yes, ma’am,’ I said, rising and following her into her office.

‘Would you like a cup of coffee, Tom?’

‘Yes, ma’am, I would,’ I said nervously.

‘Why do you call me ma’am?’ I believe we’re exactly the same age.’

‘Good home training. And nervousness.’

‘Why are you nervous? Do you take anything with your coffee?’

‘Cream and sugar. I get nervous every time my sister slits her wrists. It’s a quirk of mine.’” (Pages 56-57)

The characters that populate this saga are flawed, vulnerable and fascinating. In following the flow of the narrative, I desperately wanted each of them to find a way to solve their problems and learn to enjoy life – all the while knowing that no such facile happy ending was in the cards.

A significant subplot and counterpoint welcomes the reader into the ice palace that is the home and nuclear family of Dr. Lowenstein, her self-absorbed concert violinist husband and their perpetually sulking adolescent son. The irony is that this sophisticated and urbane family is just as flawed and toxic as the wacky Wingo’s from the wetlands. The message is clear: dysfunction, pain and abuse know no geographic or socioeconomic boundaries, but are equal opportunity employers.

I love this book for the artistry on display, and for the insights into human nature and suffering that Conroy offers on every page.