Book Review: South of Broad by Pat Conroy
While I’m sure there are many folks out there who would disagree, I’ve come to feel that Pat Conroy is the best living novelist in the English language. While other writers may be more in tune with the fashions of high brow graduate writing professors (and less readable and engaging for it) and others in turn more in tune with popular marketing, Conroy writes positively enchanting novels which are at once as broad as the whole wide world and as emotionally deep as the Atlantic ocean. I first encountered Conroy’s writing in the late 1980’s when The Prince of Tides was released. I was working at the time as a bookstore clerk. We received an advanced reading copy, which my boss took home and read. She raved about it, so when the title came in I checked out a copy and brought it home. And was almost immediately hooked in that compelling story of three children growing up in the South Carolina low country. I later read and enjoyed Conroy’s earlier works, The Lords of Discipline and The Water Is Wide. Later still I greatly enjoyed Conroy’s subsequent novel Beach Music.
South of Broad is I believe the only book that I purchased in 2009. I pre-ordered it from Amazon and was thrilled to receive it just after its August publication date. As always, Conroy’s writing is lyrical and the story beautifully plotted, highly readable and engaging. As the novel opens, high school senior Leo King is a very busy boy. Rising at 4:30 each morning for his job as a newspaper delivery boy, King is also co-captain of his high school football team, in the first year of racial integration at his public school. He is also on probation for a drug offense which requires him to serve as a sort of caretaker cum servant for an irascible elderly antiques dealer, serves as an altar boy at his Catholic church and has been instructed by his mother (a former nun who is also his high school principal) to make friends with the new kids who’ve moved in just across the street.
As always, Conroy skillfully blends many intricate strands of plot in a novel chock full of deep and well developed characters. South of Broad will follow Leo and his high school friends for more than forty years, chronicling Leo’s rise from delivery boy to featured columnist at the Charleston News and Courier, through a series of tragedies and triumphs that come to a head when Sheba Poe– a high school friend who went on went on to become a very successful movie star returns to Charleston to enlist the aid of her old gang in tracking down her brother Trevor, who seems to have vanished in San Francisco. The novel alternates between these kids’ long ago senior year and the present day, ending shortly after hurricane Hugo strikes Charleston with devastating force.
My only complaint in all these years of reading Conroy’s wonderful novels is that he seems to take a decade or more to write each of them. Conroy addresses this issue to some extent on his web site, where he reveals that he is working on three more novels and is trying to take to heart the many pleas he has received to write more quickly. If you’ve already read Conroy, you obviously don’t need me to tell you how wonderful his books are. But if you haven’t, take my advice and click here to order your own copy of South of Broad right now. I assure you, you will be most pleased to have discovered the wonderful world of Pat Conroy’s fiction. South of Broad— Very Highly Recommended