Will McLean is one of the few English majors at the venerable Carolina Military Institute in Charleston. Before he walks through the gates to begin his senior year in 1966, he is still just a boy; by the time he wears the ring nine months later, he is full-grown and has seen the world for what it really is.
It's hard to believe that The Lords of Discipline is the first Pat Conroy book I have ever read. It is equally hard to believe that I would have fallen in love with an emotionally difficult book about a military college.
The book is fiction but gains its authenticity from Conroy's own undergraduate experience at the The Citadel, also located in Charleston. In fact, in an author's note (read by Conroy himself in the audio edition), he mentions that The Citadel banned the book on campus for more than decade. Although the details and the people were born in Conroy's mind, The Lords of Discipline speaks the truth.
At the hub of Will McLean's story is the horrors of the Phebe system--the sanctioned breaking down of young men during their first year of college. Hazing is too tame a word for what the Plebes endure from the upper classmen, and the majority of students who matriculate in the fall never make it to spring.
Piling up on the negative side of life at The Institute is racism, social class divisions, and the abuse of power. On the other hand, Will recalls the deep bonds he felt with his roommates of four years and the strength of brotherhood that seemed unbreakable behind the veil of youth.
The Lords of Discipline is one of the most emotionally intense books I have ever read. Although I know my connection with the novel was strengthened by the brilliant narration by Dan John Miller, I can't imagine not recommending the print version. As I said in my audio review for AudioFile magazine, "The combination of Conroy's story and Miller's rendition creates an unforgettable and lingering audio experience."
Although Conroy presents both sides of attending a military college, I more often return to the dark images and the potential hypocrisy of those who preach the sacredness of the code.
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Published by Random House / Dial Press 2002 (originally published 1980)
Source: Review (see review policy)
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