As you might recall, I was dreading reading this book. I thought that it was going to be all about white pretty boys hazing the first black cadet coming to a military academy. The author, Pat Conroy, graduated from the Citadel. The Lords is set in Charleston, at "The Carolina Military Institute". The Citadel's proper name is apparently "The Military College of South Carolina", and it is also located in Charleston. To a great extent, the experience of Will McLean, the protagonist in The Lords, has got to be based on Conroy's own life. Like Conroy, McLean is on the basketball team, and plays in the longest basketball game in the history of the Southern Conference in 1967. That game was sort of a highlight, and my guess is that Conroy shared some of McLean's low times as well.
In The Lords,Will McLean is a Southern boy, whose father's last wish was that he attend "The Institute". Will is really not an Institute type guy, but he manages to get through his difficult "plebe" year, as the first year is called. In his senior year, The Institute admits its first African American student, and a colonel known as "The Bear" asks Will to look out for him. While doing so, Will begins to question whether a rumored secret society, The Ten, actually exists.
One of the main reasons that Will makes it through his plebe year is the support of his roommates, Tradd, Mark, and Pig. Tradd is a Charleston native, whose family welcomes Will as an adopted son. Mark and Pig are from the North, and are big guys who are not afraid of a fight. Together they form a bond of paisans, as Pig calls them, who would do anything for each other.
The Lords is sort of a guys' guy's book. It has male bonding, homophobia, ritual, military life, sports scenes, foot fetishes, racism, hazing and fights. But, it was a better book than I expected it to be, and there was a lot for The Typical Book Group to discuss. Most of what we talked about would give away surprises though, so you'll have to check out my Spoilers page after you read The Lords to see more.
Next Up: Each summer, the Typical Book Group picks a BFB (Big Fat Book) to read, and we skip meeting in July to give us the time to do it. This year we picked Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. We'll talk about it in August. The Lords was 561 pages, making it a BFB as well. Two in a row is pretty ambitious for us - we'll see how it goes!
Next Up on CD: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Still Reading: Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn