The one and only Pat Conroy returns, with a big, sprawling novel that is at once a love letter to Charleston and to lifelong friendship.
Against the sumptuous backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina, South of Broad gathers a unique cast of sinners and saints. Leopold Bloom King, our narrator, is the son of an amiable, loving father who teaches science at the local high school. His mother, an ex-nun, is the high school principal and a well-known Joyce scholar. After Leo's older brother commits suicide at the age of thirteen, the family struggles with the shattering effects of his death, and Leo, lonely and isolated, searches for something to sustain him. Eventually, he finds his answer when he becomes part of a tightly knit group of high school seniors that includes friends Sheba and Trevor Poe, glamorous twins with an alcoholic mother and a prison-escapee father; hardscrabble mountain runaways Niles and Starla Whitehead; socialite Molly Huger and her boyfriend, Chadworth Rutledge X; and an ever-widening circle whose liaisons will ripple across two decades-from 1960s counterculture through the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
The ties among them endure for years, surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, and Charleston's dark legacy of racism and class divisions. But the final test of friendship that brings them to San Francisco is something no one is prepared for. South of Broad is Pat Conroy at his finest; a long-awaited work from a great American writer whose passion for life and language knows no bounds.
Pat Conroy (1945 - 2016) was the New York Times bestselling author of two memoirs and seven novels, including The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, and The Lords of Discipline. He is recognized as a leading figure of late-20th century Southern literature.
Born the eldest of seven children in a rigidly disciplined military household, he attended the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina. He briefly became a schoolteacher (which he chronicled in his memoir The Water Is Wide) before publishing his first novel, The Boo. Conroy lived on Fripp Island, South Carolina until his death in 2016.
Conroy passed away on March 4, 2016 at his home from Pancreatic Cancer. He was 70 years old at the time of his death.
Greatly anticipated and greatly loathed. I love the other Conroy novels. The Great Santini and the Prince of Tides are modern classics. But now Conroy has taken the "dysfunctional South Carolina family" formula and beaten it into the ground.
Where to start? Implausible plot elements. I mean PUH-leeze. I can't even cover all the gimmicks Conroy throws into this plot. Give your readers some credit, you don't have to hit them over the head with every imaginable twist on family dysfunction all in one book.
Embarrassingly unbelievable dialogue. Conroy is obviously trying to reproduce the kind of witty repartee you see on Friends but it just doesn't work here. These are teenagers speaking the words of sophisticated script writers. It not only doesn't ring true, but totally detracts from the story.
Worst of all is the preachy tone of the whole novel. Okay, we get it, this is about Racial Harmony and Gay Tolerance and Survivors of Childhood Trauma. The main character is so smugly "enlightened", even as a teenager, that you want nothing more than to smack him upside his self righteous head. Leo boldly leads his group of friends into Racial Harmony and Gay Tolerance while healing the wounds of Childhood Trauma and at same time showing remarkable and totally unbelievable attachment to a cantankerous, elderly character (what he does for this character, at one point, is simply not to be believed of any teenager.) He describes himself as a dork who bakes and sews prom gowns, but at the same time manages to make time with the female characters in a way that - again - defies belief.
All this is to say that I have yet to conclude this novel. With a few remaining chapters I intend to see it through to the bitter end. I have a feeling that it won't end the way I'd like which would be to see the entire cast of characters sail away on a Slow Boat to China, never to be heard from again!
In Pat Conroy’s first novel in 14 years a group of friends comes together as high-schoolers in the late 1960s and they change each others’ lives. Our guide through this ode to friendship is Leopold Bloom King, second son in every sense to a mother who is not only the principal at his high school, but a former nun and an expert on James Joyce. Conroy uses her as a deus ex Ulysses to manipulate her son into meeting, in a 24 hour stretch, the eight friends who form the core of the tale. That day is, of course, June 16, Bloomsday. You know there will be a character named Molly. Leo’s mother named his golden boy older brother Stephen in honor of you know who. Sadly, Stephen offers the spark that sets light to the rest of the novel, by committing suicide. Leo found his body at a tender age, the trauma of which caused him a breakdown and an extended time out in a mental institution. Later, Leo takes the fall for a drug crime not of his doing, suffering in silence because he admired a school athlete who reminds him so much of Stephen. Leo continues to act in a saint-like and not very credible manner. As an adult Leo is on the Penelope end of a wandering spouse problem. This Bloom could definitely use a Bialystock.
Pat Conroy - 1945 - 2016- image from the New York Times
There are mysteries to be solved, significant dangers to be dealt with, lessons to be learned and lives to be led in this mass coming-of-age tale. A central character in the story is Charlestown, South Carolina, the location of the title street. Conroy lets loose with florid and not unwelcome sentimentality about his core fictional location. There is nothing wrong with loving your home. There are plenty of warts in Conroy's South. Bigotry abounds in this place where the Civil War heard its first shot. No shock there. Racism and class rigidity are not tucked away behind the magnolias. More surprising is the degree of acceptance across the friends who form Conroy’s breakfast, lunch and dinner club.
The group seems selected for family dysfunction. This runs the gamut from an unloving mother to a psycho-killer father, spiced up with a bit of murder, alcoholism, and sexual deviance. This wide spectrum of adolescence includes several sets of siblings—a siren about to become a queen of the silver screen and her flamboyantly fabulous brother, brother and sister orphans who are chained to a bed when we first meet them, a spoiled rich boy and his athletic sister—and the first black to integrate the local high school. All have interesting stories, which are revealed in time, taking us from the 1960s into the 1980s when the group comes together to save one of their own, a sort of Big Chill in which the Kevin Costner character is still kicking.
There is much to enjoy here. Connections to Joyce, commentary on religion, Catholicism in particular, much more on the power of friendship, a feel for the culture of a particular time in a particular place, some beautiful descriptive passages, some engaging scenes in which one can, at times feel along with the characters.
So why did I not like this book? The dialogue was snappy, witty, and seemed to all be emanating from a single voice, the author’s. The lines that come from character A could just as easily have come from characters B, C, D or E. Black, white, male, female, gay or straight, there was too little differentiation in the sound and feel of each of Conroy’s people. This is not an absolute, of course. The geezer does not sound like the football coach, who does not sound like Leo’s mother. But the friends were too much of a cloth. Also, the voice that emanates from those too-similar mouths was almost unrelentingly peppy. Snappy dialogue, witty, cheery, upbeat. It reminded me of Robert Heinlein’s YA novels (I hope they were YA) from the 50s and 60s in which all the clean-cut youths slapped on their spacesuits, sidearms and smiles as they marched forth to kick-butt on some bad-ass aliens, exchanging wisecracks 24/7. (Yes there is a monster to be slain here.) Puh-lease. It is tough to feel much connection to such plasticine portrayals. And enough with the tears, already. Do southern males really soak each others shirts with such lachrymosity?
I know that there are many who will love this book. And I recognize that maybe there are elements I missed. There had to be a lot of Ulysses references, for example, that left contrails high above as they zoomed past me. But even with missed references, the uni-character problem really grated. The South may rise again, but, for me, this book left it where it was.
I loved Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides, and I think he is an immensely talented writer and storyteller. South of Broad, however, is not one of his best works. There were far too many jarring grammatical errors (which occurred as early as page three), the dialogue was awful and the storyline over-the-top dramatic. That said, though, I still found it a compelling read, and Conroy at his worst is still better than 99% of the writers out there. Parts of the book were magical, such as the story of the main character's parents' romance and the relationship between the boy and an antique dealer. But many of the characters came across as stereotyped caricatures.
Sorry, Pat, but I'm abandoning this novel at 25 percent.
Conroy has a lot of Southern charm, but this isn't his best work. The dialogue was too contrived and I wasn't invested in the characters. I did like the Charleston setting and the Bloomsday references, but I hit a wall and decided I need to move on.
Conroy has such a big heart that I feel a bit guilty for not finishing, but my pile of unread books is just too large to linger here. I'll circle back and read more of his novels in the future.
I am 29% into this book (no page numbers on the kindle...a little disconcerting). Not loving it, so far. The dialogue is really bugging me. Do people really talk like this? Is anyone else out there reading this right now and finding it irritating? I am compelled to keep going, because I want to see where it is going, but if the "witty banter" keeps up, I am going to have to give up. These are the oddest caricatures of Southern "folk" I have read in a long time.
Maybe I am from too far north (and west) of the Mason-Dixon line to know people who would help these characters ring true to me.
I have given up, for now. I just could not take the dialogue anymore. The clever characters wore me out.
This book has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I was about to give birth when I tried last time and the stuff about his 10 year old brother committing suicide was too much to take at the time. Going to make it through this time!
Okay-I finished. Once I started I wondered why I ever waited. First off I want to say that I feel like in some ways the description did this book an injustice. Yes, it starts in Charleston and they travel to San Francisco but the desription makes it sound like the book is all over the place when it's really not.
Pat Conroy is a writer who wears his heart on his sleeve. Reading his books are like spying on his family reunion. I can't help reading his books and trying to figure out who represents who. In his past books he has written about fathers who brutalized their sons-The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music (there are two in that one actually) but in South of Broad he writes about a loving and tender father who seems to get and appreciate his son in ways no one else (certainly not the cold, James Joyce loving mother) does. In interviews Conroy claims to have made peace with and fallen in love with his father before his death and he seems to attest to that on every page. Granted, there is another father in the book that makes Santini seem like a pussy cat but he's not Leo's father. Of course it does make me wonder about how he currently feels about his mother but maybe I'm reading too much into things. This is also the second book that features a broken and wounded wife for the main character and the fourth that features suicide (there could be more that I haven't read.) Again, makes me wonder.
Conroy's writing may be a bit over the top, he may be a bit long winded and overly effusive but I can't help but love him. He does hurt and flawed and broken characters like few others and he never fails to make me weep. I am perfectly willing to overlook his little flaws.
I've had this book on my shelf almost since I first joined GoodReads (2012). Pat Conroy recently passed away and he's an author I've never read before, but so glad that I had the chance to start with this one. Set in Charleston, set between past (1960's) and present (1980s) we follow the group of main characters as we learn how they came to be where they are today. The book opens on Bloomsday (Ulysses fans rejoice!) and the Joyce references don't end there- they are riddled through the pages-- making me antsy to pick up more books. The main character- Leopold Bloomfield King- is not attractive (he's referred to as "The Toad"), and he's suffering with processing his feelings after finding his older brother's body in the bathtub. Leo, riddled with his own mental turmoil, befriends an eccentric group of misfits and they go through life together. (This seemed a little too contrived for me, but let's go with it...) Add in a number of hot topics during this timeframe (Racial tensions, segregation, religion, AIDS, mental disorders out the ying yang, abandonment) and you've got yourself quite the saga.
I enjoyed the writing- dense, lyrical, and epic. At times, this was my only complaint with the book- the writing was too much, too many words and sentences describing something that went on far longer than my interest in said subject. The book kept moving and I was surprised at many of the twists that came. I thought this would be more of a character study, but alas, I was intrigued and surprised at the different directions the author took this sad group of friends. In the end, my heart broke and I found myself glad to have been introduced to Mr. Conroy with this selection. 3.5 Stars rounded up to 4
Pat Conroy’s “South of Broad” is a love song to Charleston with blood on the sheet music.
As he walks toward the Cooper River in 1990, six months after Hurricane Hugo tore into his beloved city, narrator Leo King ponders the city’s rebuilding and healing, and the coming spring: “Since the day I was born, I have been worried that heaven would never be half as beautiful as Charleston.”
Like his counterpart Tom Wingo in “The Prince of Tides” (1986), Leopold Bloom King is a psychologically wounded man. While Wingo’s issues focus on a brutal family secret, the death of an older brother, and a suicidal sister, King is haunted by the suicide of his older brother Steve. King worshipped that brother, the golden boy and their mother’s overt favorite. “Looking back,” King tells us, “I think the family suffered a collective nervous breakdown after we buried Steve.”
King drifted between that collective breakdown and 1969 when he found himself fulfilling the role of anchorman in a diverse group of high school seniors: Ike Jefferson, one of the first black students to play on the high school football team; Sheba and Trevor Poe, the dramatic and talented twins who live across the street with an alcoholic mother; the mountain-born orphans Starla and Niles Whitehead, who hope one day to be re-united with their mother; and from the aristocratic world South of Broad Street, Molly Huger and brother and sister Chad and Fraser Rutledge.
That these students appeared in King’s life on June 16—Bloomsday, for those who revere James Joyce—was to some extent orchestrated by his mother with the helping hand of fate. After all, his mother who was both the high school principal and a Joycean scholar named him after Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s protagonist in “Ulysses.” And after all, as King saw it, there are no coincidences; “fate comes at you cat-footed, unavoidable, and bloodthirsty.”
Conroy portrays the meeting and evolving relationships between King and this disparate collection of variously angry, snobbish, haunted and broken souls with humor and realism. Some commentators have panned Conroy’s dialogue as unnatural. Yet, one might ask what “normal” could possibly sound like for people weaned on tragedy and/or destined for it.
“The Prince of Tides” unfolds primarily in flashbacks. Though he’s also looking back on his life, Leo King narrates “South of Broad” in a nonlinear sequence. Parts one and four are set in the late 1960s. Parts two, three and five are set in the late 1980s. While frustrating, this structure is not fatal. Yet, details about the characters’ maturation into adults are sketchy and the action screeches to halt before the climatic Part Five when Conroy pulls his readers back to the high school world of race and class tensions and football.
What worked to perfection in “The Prince of Tides” is a little dissonant in “South of Broad.” Conroy’s trademark soaring language develops a cohesive sense of place that wonderfully contrasts with and serves as a stable foundation for the nasty events and broken people. Yet some of the poetry is ponderous. The familiar storyline of dysfunctional people coping with a tragedies is again compelling. Yet it stumbles somewhat on the novel’s structure and melodramatic tendencies.
When Leopold Bloom King is nine years old, he finds a dead god named Stephen Daedalus King in a bathtub of bloody water. While the method behind the madness is a little tired and the music a little too much in a minor key, between Steve’s suicide and the novel’s last moments on a Bloomsday many years in the future, there is a still strong and memorable story.
Can we add a shelf for "wouldn't waste my time finishing this?" I made it about halfway, trying to talk myself into finishing it. Finally, I couldn't take the horrid, lame dialog, character mix and plotting. This paragraph, spoken by Sheba Poe, famous "sex goddess" movie star, trying to find her disappeared brother about sums it up;
"Full page column. Tomorrow morning. Herb's going to tell the story of the famous actress and her high school friends from Charleston who've come to hunt for her brother dying of AIDS. He loved the angle of Ike and Betty being black, Fraser and Molly being society broads, Niles being an orphan, and Leo being a brother columnist" We cheer, but Niles is clearly miffed. "Why did you have to tell him I'm an orphan?"
Gag. Wrong on so many levels. And this is only a very small sample of the wretchedness. This is the worst thing I've read in ages.
I've never been to the south; I can only hope that this is just bad writing and that southerners do not truly speak and think as this novel portrays. I don't think it's really in question - bad writing.
My first Conroy book, and it won't be my last. Good Southern fiction, and a well-drawn, very eclectic bunch of characters make up the cast. We join them in their high school years as they come of age together amid class struggles and the racial tensions of the 60s. Mid-point this group of friends goes to San Francisco seeking a missing friend, a gay man named Trevor who is dying of aids. Not only is it the 80s when aids was considered God's revenge, there's also a psycho killer lurking about, ever present but very much a mystery. The good: Charleston sounds like a beautiful place to visit; wouldn't want to live there. The author is friends with Anne Rivers Siddons and I could see similarites in their writing and their love of that area. The story crosses multiple genres and should appeal to men and women alike. The protagonist Leo King is a sweetheart of a guy. And of course with Mark Deakins talking to me with a Southern accent, I didn't want it to end. The bad: While the humorous retorts were funny, they were at times just too clever to be as spontaneous as Conroy would want us to believe. Also lots of melodrama on these pages. The ugly: Suicide, rape, murder, deaths of forgotten gay men, racial situations, and it seems you can't set a novel in S Carolina without including a hurricane.
The Prince of Tides will always be my favorite book, and I have loved many others written by the great Pat Conroy, but....
It hurts my heart to say this. South of Broad is the work of a man who has lost his mojo. It is a book that most likely only got into print because editors deferred to what was once genius, perhaps even assumed that the work would somehow be fine because so much of Conroy's past work is undeniably brilliant.
Where do I begin?
The plot? What plot? Disjointed rambling thoughts I see, but plot? No.
The characters are despicable. There may have been one or two likable folks in the entire book. Certainly none of the main characters were likable. Despite horrible backstories--who was NOT raped constantly through childhood in this book??--no one was even remotely likable except Trevor, and I even had issues with Trevor.
The protagonist likes himself too damned much. Even when he leaves the lauding of his wondrous deeds to others, there is never a hint at self-deprecation. Leo likes himself way more than I ever did.
How are these people friends? Even when we finally get around to the back story of how they bonded that championship year (and please, God, I couldn't have stood another paragraph of football), these were not friends who triumphed over evil together or who loved through everything... these were assholes. Racist, self-absorbed, assholes.
The dialogue made me laugh out loud, and not because it was funny. It was just bad. People don't talk that way. Not even in South Carolina. Besides being boring, tedious and out of touch, the dialogue ended up very often serving as Conroy's vehicle of condescension. When he has to use banter to remind us that the characters are brother and sister after we've known them for four hundred pages, something is seriously wrong.
Add to that references to used kotex and "negresses", or throw in quips like, "He's not my cup of semen" and you really wonder why in the hell you bothered to finish the book at all.
Catholic funerals don't happen this way, sorry. That aging group could never have pulled off the rescue of Trevor. You don't unveil a villain in the last five pages who has never been suspect in the entire rest of the book. You don't talk about this evil mother when she's never done much of anything wrong. Your heroes can't be crazy unless they are also magnificent--and these were not.
Anger and bitterness ooze from these pages. Charlestonians are NOT that racist, not even in the company of their nearest and dearest. Friends do not hurl hateful epithets at one another like this and survive and do it all over again the next time. No one jokes to someone calling to check on his family after a disaster of epic proportions, "They're all dead."
This book is a practice in inappropriateness.
I wanted to make excuses for Pat Conroy. I have referred to him as my favorite author for a very long time. But there is no excuse. I only rated this book two stars because I didn't vomit.
It is time to put down the pen, PC, at least until you find your sense of humor again. Maybe your lovely prose and your ability to understand the human heart will be in the same place. Wouldn't that be a wonderful day?
Oh, this book is killing me. I usually reserve a special place in my heart for Pat Conroy (I think it's the Southerner within that's the culprit), but there are so many things about this book that are annoying me that I am actually keeping a list of them in a small notebook. One example: there are two characters named Fraser and Niles. FRASER. and NILES. I mean, I know he took the i out of "Frasier", but COME ON. ANother example: in the first 44 pages, a 17-year-old straight boy "skips" no fewer than 3 times. He skips through a gate, skips down a walkway, skips into a doorway. How many straight 17-year-old boys do you know who SKIP anywhere? And it just feels like Conroy is trying very very hard to be poetic. And his characters are more like caricatures. And the rhapsodizing about Charleston (which, let's face it, we must call CHAHLSTON in an overdone Southern accent if we're really going to mock this book) is driving me crazy. There are huge chunks of history that are missing so that later in the book we're just supposed to understand that these characters have strong friendships, despite the fact that the only other time they were introduced involved a one-time meeting and a fight (alright, not ALL characters involved a fight - but I'm referring to Leo Bloom and Chad Rutledge) (oh! No fight here either, but Leo met the orphans once, and then the next thing we know, he's inviting them to his big celebrate-being-off-probation party as though they were super-close. What the..?).
SIGH. I think I'm going to have to go back and re-read Beach Music when all this is said and done. It is one of my favorite books of all time, but I am now terrified that perhaps I just was too young and/or stupid or something to notice its flaws.
Looking at the other reviews of this novel, I guess a reader either loves it or hates. it. I disagree with the person who said it's a novel about a dysfunctional family. That's not even close, it's a book about life, living and relationships; snobbery, sexuality, religion; humor; racism and segregation. On top of all that, it describes the beauty of Charleston, SC in the late 1960's through the early 1990's as it follows a group of high school friends and their families during some turbulent times. The novel is character driven and they are well developed as the novel progresses. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
"I'll admit it; I've never watched or read The Prince of Tides. I didn't know who Pat Conroy was when I received this ARC from Doubleday. The book sounded interesting, so I requested a copy. I didn't know what to expect, and therefore, I probably have a different opinion than someone who is a huge fan of his work.[return][return]Since I didn't know what to expect, what I found was simply amazing. I completely fell in love with Mr. Conroy's descriptions of Charleston. It brought the city to life for me in a way that one visit there in the heat of summer was not able to do. The city itself is as much of a main character in the story as Leo, Sheba, Trevor, Molly and the other cast of characters, if not THE main character. His descriptions are lush and poetic. I really want to go back for another visit now to be able to see Charleston's charms in a completely new light.[return][return]I was a bit disappointed with some of the characters. I felt that they were either too harsh or I didn't quite understand their role in the circle of friends. They seemed to be the outsiders but still included in the inner circle for whatever reason. The fact that the story itself is about a group of friends, their successes and failures, loves and losses over the course of several decades definitely brings a The Big Chill vibe to the book. It's like Friends without the coffee shop and if they weren't quite as superficial and self-involved.[return][return]To me, in spite of the drama, suspense, mystery, and heartache, this book is about love. Love for self, love for family, love for friends, love for duty, but most importantly, love for a city and an entire culture. It wasn't the relationships that kept me reading each night until the wee hours of the morning. It was Leo's (and Mr. Conroy's) obvious love of the Lowcountry Charleston, SC that kept pulling me back. I've never read a book where the backdrop kept me riveted before, but there is always a first for everything.[return][return]There is a lot to like about this book and quite a bit more to love. We should all be so lucky to form such tight bonds with a group of friends as Leo does with his. To know that they would drop everything to help you out is a tremendously powerful group. But it's Charleston that really shines through, even with it's reluctance to integrate and stubborn ties to a culture that by all rights no longer exists in the rest of the country. For that's what makes Charleston the special place it is today.[return][return]I would and have begun to highly recommend this for others as one last beach read for the summer. I may even have to give his other works a try based on my reaction to this one. Thank you to Doubleday and Nan Talese for the opportunity to review this ARC!"
Let me start by saying, this is not the best of Pat Conroy, but I so love his writing I could overlook this exercise in a bit of melodrama. As always, his writing is music to my ears, poetic and creates a longing to visit his beloved Charleston and meet all of these characters.
I bonded with these characters and they made me think of childhood friends that have stayed with me long into adulthood. This is a story of true friendship, true love....with people and with a place that has molded you. His storytelling, much like Leo Kings, is magical.
Told from the perspective of a young, troubled and socially inept Leo King, this story follows him as he makes his way through a rocky life, cementing friendships and loyalty along the way. Ah, if we could all be so idealistic when life has not always dealt you the winning hand. Conroy paints a very detailed picture with his words...he is a master. This story begins in a perhaps simpler, yet simmering time....civil rights, social status etc and takes us through all of this to see who comes out the better person at the end. There are characters who are charmed and those who are full of anger and madness.
As I said, a bit melodramatic....could all these things occur within one tight circle of friends? Yes, maybe it could...but even if not, it makes for great reading. The other thing I loved is that Charleston, SC is one of the main characters of this book. How difficult to make the reader yearn and feel for a setting. Conroy does it superbly!
If as a reader you are unfamiliar with Conroy, then this may not be the book to start with....but if you are a fan then I do not think this is one you should pass up.
Awful. Dreadful. Could it be an intentional self mocking parody of his earlier work? I, like a lot of other reviewers, was looking forward to Conroy's latest novel having enjoyed all his other novels but...Where do I start? Leo narrates the tale and keeps on reminding us that he is a shy youth but never shuts up, and his patter is identical to the youthful lead characters in 'The Great Santini' and 'Lords of Discipline'. A movie star (novels featuring characters who are movie stars are never any good) called Sheba Poe. Sheba Poe! A Gay character who is witty,precious and slight of build because as everyone knows all gays are witty, precious and slight of build. All the women are beautiful except for those who are ugly but possess a dazzling inner beauty. Every character is an amalgam of characters he's used before or have been used elsewhere (Ordinary People kept springing to mind; Cold mother, loving father, dead favourite son) The plot attempts to cover far too much ground and in attempting to do so covers none and becomes increasingly ludicrous as the story progresses. The only reason I finished the novel was to see if it got worse and it did beyond my wildest expectations. What was Conroy thinking? I'm hoping critical reaction to this novel humbles him so his next will be more focused. I
Left of handsome Leopold, “Leo” is the sweetest South Carolina boy that you ever could meet, and he narrates Pat Conroy’s South of Broad. Broad is set in South Carolina and tells the story of his lifelong friendships forged during a fateful summer before his senior year of high school. Raised by a former nun and an all around great guy, Leo and his family is left reeling by the surprise suicide of his older golden brother Stephen. Coming out of his tailspin, shy but clever Leo endears glamorous twins, high society brats, down and out orphans, and newly integrated blacks. These friendships span the course of his life and test everything he knows.
Conroy uses the group to explore almost every possible theme: discrimination, abuse, religion, family, home, love, sex, drugs, fame, disease and commitment. At times it is beautifully worded depiction of how compelling the bonds of friendship can be. Other times it is an ugly and edgy look at growing up during the latter half of the twentieth century. This is the first novel I’ve ever read by Conroy. So for me personally, it was an eye opening introduction to Conroy’s startling and graceful use of language. Its 500+ pages aren’t daunting or laborious in Conroy’s deft hands; instead they are simply a pleasure to read. Conroy delivers a hugely ambitious book with hundreds of little plot nuances and dozens of characters that Conroy manages to tie up.
That said, of course some of the characters are underdeveloped. Conroy attempts seven characters with huge and distinct personalities. He’d need thousands of pages to solidify motivations and layered complex characterization for these characters and his storyline. If you approach it clearly from the perspective of Leo some of his actions are still not thoroughly explained or justified. Not helping matters is that fact that Conroy inexplicably structures his story to begin in the sixties, jumps to the eighties, then back to the sixties, and finishes in the early nineties. The story gains nothing by this organization, so instead it just sort of complicates the plot’s arc. The second return the sixties is almost entirely unnecessary except to add a hundred or so extra pages to the books heft.
These complaints don’t detract much from the story. If you are a Conroy fan, or have an itch that only a thick, well-written, near-epic novel can satisfy, I highly recommend South of Broad.
Ok, maybe there’s no punch line, here, but part of me wants to picture all three men imparting elements of their own writing to Pat Conroy as he sits writing South of Broad.
The rolling, epic begins as a love letter to the city of Charleston in the waning summer light of 1969. Rising high school senior, Leopold Bloom, finds himself on the rebound after a tumultuous teenage period, marred by the horrific memory and subsequent drama of his older brother’s suicide. His mother and father, a Joyce scholar and science teacher respectively, have thrown themselves into a world of academics, devastated by their elder son’s departure from their world and Leo is all but abandoned, emotionally.
Despite early travesty, Leo remains a faithful lover of his fair city on the river and as his final high school year approaches, finds himself playing the part of a one-man welcoming committee to an unlikely configuration of seniors. The group consists of Trevor and Sheba Poe, beautiful and dramatic twins, both the product of two deeply troubled parents; orphaned and sullen siblings, Niles and Starla Whitehead and their friend Betty Roberts; Molly Hugar, a historically beautiful Charleston debutante and her boyfriend, Chad Rutledge, an inexcusably privileged piece of the city’s royalty, and Ike Jefferson, the son of the first black coach at the city’s public high school.
As the summer of love melts and gives way to a newer age, the band of friends find themselves submerged in drama both personal and political, battling racism, homophobia and the inbred, aristocratic caste system of Charleston’s finest. The story jumps forward several times to the early eighties, playing on the same themes, showing some but far from fundamental, changes to these obstacles.
I will lay down right here and now to tell you that I am in love with South of Broad. My only sadness is that whenever I come across a book that I truly, unfailingly adore, I can place a safe bet on the general public hating it. Already, I have read several scathing reviews by staunch Conroy supporters, or former supporters, who claim that his latest piece is a departure from his normal writing. Now, I can not swear to the validity of such statements but if it is a departure, I will be only disappointed that the previous works were not as good as South of Broad. Or, fine, maybe I’ll drop the pessimism and assume that there could possibly be better Conroy books than the one I just finished, however unlikely.
True to the book’s Joycean and Homeric tendencies, it cannonballs the reader through bright, joyful escapades, soul-searching wanderings, and deeply disturbing treachery by both human hand and forces of nature, with heart wrenching twists and turns. The writing is beautiful and genuine while maintaining an element of surrealism that allows for bits of welcome absurdity.
One of my favorite elements of the story is the bond that ties the group together. All backgrounds are covered, the definition of a motley crew, and yet their impenetrable attraction to each other lasts decades. That is not to say that the group always, or even often, sees eye to eye on surfacing issues but their witty banter is certainly a highlight of Conroy’s writing. Also, the brotherly love constructed between Leo and Ike is one of my favorite literary pairings of all time.
This will not be a book for everyone as it is an intensely powerful piece. It is, though well worth the effort if you are willing to embrace the flow of the story and hold on for the ride. I will plug this as that book to help you transition from fluffy beach reading to deeper, darker stories of the impending fall season. I adored reading every last word and am crossing my fingers, hoping that Conroy’s previous books are just as fabulous.
It pains me to poorly review a book that was written so earnestly as Pat Conroy's "South of Broad", but his latest fiasco, earnest or not, is a treacly, feel-nauseous-to-make-you-feel-good 500 page yuck-fest. Nothing rings at all true in it, despite Conroy's best intentions. One critic from Entertainment Weekly said it was a carbon copy of his earlier successful novel "The Prince of Tides", with the city of Charleston, South Carolina substituted as the locale. I can see what the critic was getting at, although I don't necessarily agree with it. It does deal with the same themes though, and Conroy chooses to bash the reader over the head with them: "Racism is BAD. Homophobia is BAD. Pedophilia is BAD!!!" In case you don't get the message about the pedophilia topic, he makes the case so pruriently and sickeningly that it goes beyond drama and becomes farce. The dialog is the thing I like least about this novel: it's so unbelievable it makes the novel barely readable. His main characters (especially when portrayed as teenagers in high school) say things that simply don't translate to the real world, even the world of the late sixties in the deep south. If you choose to ignore this warning and read this novel, don't say I didn't warn you how bad it is. (It's really not even worth the train wreck factor).
I began Pat Conroy's latest novel, South of Broad, with high expectations. Conroy is one of my favorite southern writers, although he can't really be called just a novelist of the south. His writing is more about the human condition than it is about the south, although oftentimes it seems as though the largess that is "the south" is almost a main character in his books. Conroy cannot be separated from his roots, an ironic fact given that his family often moved during his childhood. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, when Conroy finally landed in one place -- that place being Beaufort, South Carolina -- he developed a strong bond with it. His writing reflects his devotion to South Carolina, and South of Broad is no exception.
Conroy has a tumultuous history with his family; he has written about his abusive father in many previous novels and works of nonfiction. According to the biography on his website, when his parents divorced after he was an adult and had written two novels, "his mother presented a copy of The Great Santini to the judge as 'evidence' in divorce proceedings against his father." That novel's father figure was shaped primarily by Conroy's own father, and it was a brutally honest account of the family's sufferings at the hands of that man. South of Broad is the first novel in which Conroy has been able to create a loving, supportive father figure. However, because he has long depended on friends as a kind of adopted family, the novel also is written as an ode to friendship.
Charleston's Leo Bloom King is at the cusp of his senior year in the summer of 1969. The novel begins on Bloomsday, a holiday celebrated by James Joyce fans the world over; the holiday takes place on June 16, the day which serves as the entire setting for Joyce's novel Ulysses. Leo's mother is a Joyce scholar, and his family celebrates the day for her sake; Leo was also named for the novel's protagonist, Leopold Bloom. Leo has already lived a life of tragedy before the novel begins. Losing his older brother has broken his entire family, and Leo in particular.
Charleston's Broad Street (photo courtesy of PointClickHome.com)
However, in that summer of 1969 Leo finds both himself and a new group of lifelong friends. South of Broad is not only Leo's story, told in movements forward and backward from that summer, but also the story of each friend that he meets that year: Ike, a black football player who is forced to play at Leo's high school because of integration; Sheba and Trevor, beautiful twins whose mother moves them to Charleston to escape from their father; Chad and Fraser, children of a powerful Charleston lawyer; the beautiful Molly, a southern belle; Niles and Starla, orphans with a history of running away; and Betty, also an orphan and --like Ike -- in attendance at Leo's high school as a result of integration.
The motley crew finds themselves in and out of trouble with Leo's mother, the principal who requires Leo to call her "Dr. King" at school. Conroy describes their adventures from that moment in 1969 to Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The group find themselves in San Francisco at one point, and Conroy writes San Francisco just as well as he writes Charleston. It's evident that while Charleston and South Carolina are loves of Conroy's, his ability to write is not contingent upon this love (or perhaps he loves San Francisco, in all its ruinous glory, as well). Conroy is a master storyteller and descriptive writer, no matter the subject matter.
Readers new to Conroy may find themselves reading harsher material than they expect; Conroy's world is not one of make-believe, where everything turns out alright in the end. Rather, it is a world very much like the real world, where money isn't everything and looks can't buy privilege. His characters fight real demons, not the ones in the closets of our youth, but the ones who live in the hearts of evil men and inside tortured souls. If you can stomach the painful side of humanity, South of Broad will pleasantly surprise you in its hopefulness, as well.
Good grief, Pat Conroy. This is the weepiest, most melodramatic thing I've ever had the pelasure of laughing my way through at an airport. The series of events and cast of characters is so hyperbolically implausible that by the time you're in an AIDS flophouse in San Fransisco, you're not even surprised that the zany home-town kids run into an old pal and now drug dealer.
Spoiler-alert for the hilariously over-blown plot points: Leo's mom was a nun and now spouts James Joyce like it's HER JOB, making him feel AWKWARD at the school where she is the principal... his brother kills himself because he was man-handled (pun intended) by the grand-daddy of cliches, the charismatic family priest... the new neighbors have a father who is pychopathically stalking and trying to kill them (of course)... the first openly gay kid in school is embraced and accepted as a cheerleader (because we all know how warm and fuzzy the South was to outsiders in the 60's, right folks?)... Mountain hillbillies come from a predictably sad mountain life... the token black kid enhances their lives and sparks conventional conversations about RACE RELATIONS and eventually becomes the chief of police (of course)... the local sex-pot becomes Angelina Jolie and comes home only to be STABBED TO DEATH BY HER FATHER... the book ends with a hurricane, followed by Leo falling in love with a nurse and prominsing to bring light bulbs or some crap to the convent his mom has returned to. AWESOME. Additionally, the characters break into man-sobs like every other page. It's a miracle the book doesn't come wrapped in plastic.
Read Beach Music. Read Prince of Tides. Just don't read this. Unless you own stock in the Kleenex company.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I was so excited to read this new Conroy, and now it has destroyed my love of him as an author. It made me question my reactions to all his earlier books that I adored: Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline, The Water is Wide, Beach Music. At first I suspected someone else had written this book, it was so preposterous and jerky. I don't know if I'm stupid that I did not get anything out of the Ulysses theme,or it was just one more stupid thing about the book. I finally just gave up and read the story to see what would happen. I am done with him now and so sad to have lost an author I previously recommended wholeheartedly. I felt the same about Thomas Harris when he was forced to write more Lecter stories because the greedy publishers wanted to make some money off of him. It was almost like he intentionally wrote grotesque books in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising (or whatever they were called; I only read one beyond Silence of the Lambs, and it was junk.) Popular authors seem to be writing for the movies or for addicts who just want the same old thing pumped up with a little more shock each time out. Enough already!
My first thought when I finished "South of Broad" — yes, spoken aloud to no one (except the author) — was, "Wow, you sure as hell pulled that one out of the fire."
"South of Broad," coming after a long fiction absence for this author since the disappointing "Beach Music," has many of the same flaws as that previous work. When Conroy's characters' wise-ass banter completely takes over, his novels can become an eye-rolling slog. Writing dialogue is not his strength, and his use of sarcastic banter in novel after novel gets tiresome. In addition, Conroy slathers on the sentiment, and you have to allow for improbable situations and characters who bond for life in oh, like, nine seconds. Still, Conroy writes very well when he gets in a groove and plays it straight instead of overcompensating with humor. And boy, the last 200 pages of this baby are as strong as anything he's written.
Conroy's main character, Leo King, who here goes from paperboy to columnist, describes himself as being shy, but nothing in the entire novel bears this out. Conroy has no clue how a shy person acts. Anyway, Leo forms friendships with the misfits and troubled in Charleston, S.C. — three orphans, the black son of the new football coach, a gay brother and stunningly beautiful sister with a mysterious past and a stalker/pedophile/maniac dad, a brother and sister of blueblood privilege. Spanning 20 years, the novel tackles gay Trevor's fight against AIDS; racism; football glory; mental illness; a murderous madman; the Catholic church; a natural disaster. "South of Broad" is divided into five parts; the third, in which the gang (they all manage to take two weeks out of their lives at the same time, no problem!) goes to San Francisco to find Trevor, now battling AIDS, who has disappeared. This should be strong, but it's where the book descends into inappropriate nonstop wisecracks, and it made me think Conroy had lost it for good and "Beach Music" was repeating itself.
I needn't have worried. Conroy piles on the tragedy in the last 200 pages, and while the author as always wears his heart on his sleeve — bleeding and dripping all over us — this section is moving and excellent.
Those new to Conroy should probably look elsewhere, though the last 40 percent of the book is so good that if new readers stick with it they may be hooked. Conroy veterans, who know his faults already but love him anyway for his flashes of superb, moving prose, should stick with the bad sections and ride this one out; the wave is high.
When I taught creative writing, I used a web clustering brainstorming strategy for students to get all their ideas down on paper and then go back and select the ideas most worthy for their subject matter. In South of Broad by Pat Conroy, it appears he used a similar strategy without editing. It is as if he incorporated the most perverse, vile, and devastating ideas for a story set against his beloved and beautiful old city of Charleston. And didn't edit a thing.
This world is peppered with pedophiles, child rapists, AIDS riddled dying men, suicides, natural disasters (Hurricane Hugo), and racial and class tensions. We open the story to find a 10 year old beloved boy who has slit his wrists in a bathtub. The Catholic Priest turns out to be the villain (we don't find this out until the very end but it is quite obvious he is creepy) and our main character, the younger brother named Leo, spirals into mental illness. The story follows Leo from his adolescence through adulthood. His life is forever changed by four strangers who move into town and attend his high school where his ex-nun and scholarly mother presides as principal.
Despite all the cliched characters, preposterous plot machinations, and sappy descriptions, I enjoyed the story and was compelled to keep reading. For me, the father character was the redeeming factor of the novel. He was the epitome of a ideal and noble parent, and Leo is fully aware at the end of the novel of the blessings his father bestowed on him while he was alive.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I suggested this for one of my book clubs after I spent an afternoon in Charleston on a recent road trip. This was also my first Pat Conroy ( but it will not be my last). I just loved this book. Written from the perspective of Leo King and covers a tumultuous period of 20 years, from 1969 through 1989. As it opens, he is a lonely teenager in the summer between Junior and Senior year of high school. June 16th, Bloomsday, changes everything and it will continue to influence his life for many years to come. Leo is the most likeable character in the story; most of the other characters are hard to like or tolerate. An exception is his father, who is the true beacon of kindness throughout the story. Pat Conroy not only writes his characters so well, but with a love and respect for the city of Charleston which came through clearly on the page. He does not write with a blind love, but addresses the issues which faced the South during the late 1960s and the 1970s. This was a great novel of time and place.
I just finished South of Broad and beg to differ with the resoundingly complimentary review blurbs on the book's cover. Maybe I've just read too much Pat Conroy? I don't know, but this book about a collection of extraordinary individuals involved in a succession of astounding situations was just a bit much.
To begin with, I'm tired of authors who claim a character - in particular someone quite young - is shy and awkward, but then places the kind of quick-witted dialog worthy of a talk show host in the hapless teenager's mouth. I'm sorry, Mr. Conroy, but it just doesn't ring true and therefore - doesn't wash.
Without giving away any critical elements of the plot,even if we can live with the clever repartee, I also found it hard to relate to one far-fetched predicament after the other that this cast of characters had to face and overcome as the story unfolded. It's just all a bit much.
Maybe ordinary people overcoming daunting odds, or exceptional people being themselves in a somewhat more realistic story line would have worked better. One or the other; not both. With everything seemingly larger than life, I had a hard time relating to any of the characters, and consequently found myself not really caring much about what happened to anyone in the story. Too often they felt like caricatures, rather than characters.
And frankly, I guess I have heard enough about the incomparable beauty of South Carolina and its charming, quirky inhabitants for awhile. Maybe for this lifetime. I have loved Mr. Conroy's writing in the past, but I'm just disappointed in this one.
Pat, Pat, is there any perversion you didn't visit in this book? Now I was with you on the Catholic issues, and murder was not out of the question, but the sicko father and the horrible scenes in the Tenderloin district moved into overwrought and in need of editing. Where was Nan on this manuscript? I agree with Kate that the Toad hardly seems like a kid, rather he sounds exactly like the 60 (?) year old author. I would have given this book 5 stars for the amazing writing if it hadn't degenerated into absurdity at the end. Pat Conroy's descriptions make you want to read aloud the many lovely passages.