Picks and Pans Review: The Lords of Discipline

updated 11/03/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/1980 01:00AM

by Pat Conroy

A staple in fiction is the romantic gothic. More rare is the macho gothic, which Conroy, author of The Great Santini, has produced in this big novel about a military college in the South. The words do pour out. Conroy tells readers how his characters feel; he imparts the same information with hysterical dialogue, and then he explains what it all means. This literary overkill constantly gets in the way of what is essentially an old-fashioned melodrama: A good guy sets out to uncover the secret society that has driven his roommate to suicide. The young men in this book exchange hugs and talk about how much they love and need one another with what seems like astonishing frequency. Maybe that is the way cadets behaved at American military schools during the 1960s, but Conroy is not very persuasive. The most dismaying thing about this novel—which has been sold to the movies and has fetched $687,000 for paperback rights—is that the hero lies, steals, tortures and cheats on the honor code just the same as the bad guys. But at the novel's end he's completely smug in the belief that he's a lot better than everybody else. (Houghton Mifflin, $12.95)

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