Saturday, October 10, 2009

Review Musings: South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Goodreads Description:
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.

My review:

I should start by saying that Pat Conroy is one of my all time favorite writers. And his previous novel, Beach Music, is one of my all time favorite books. Hands down, Pat Conroy's prose speaks to me. I feel it physically and emotionally. And, I think he's one of the most amazing Southern writers ever born.

And onto South of Broad ... I really tried to not compare this novel to Beach Music because I was concerned that it could never live up to my feeling for that book. And, ultimately, it did not. However, it came fairly close which I was a bit surprised at, to be honest. The first few chapters were not as tight as they could have been which made me feel initially that the book certainly couldn't live up to Beach Music. So, if you are reading it and not sure about the first section, please keep going. It's worth it. I promise. It smooths itself out in time.

Conroy's Charleston, SC just jumped off the page ... I have never been to Charleston but I now feel like I have. His descriptions were so fantastic, so amazing that I felt like I was there ... experiencing it all. Again, this is tied to Conroy's ability to truly paint a picture with this words. Amazing. That's all I can say ...

The unfolding of the plot and the characters in this novel is breathtaking. The layering of the experiences within the prose is difficult to explain but pure heaven while reading it.

The characters are what I cannot stop thinking about ... I felt connected to each and every one of them. As if I were a member of their group of friends. I love that Pat Conroy's men and women are always real - good, bad and the ugly - and true to life. They are not predictable, they shock you with the words they say, they make you cry at the things that they do. They are simply wonderful to read about.

In terms of dialogue, I've heard a lot of people criticize Pat Conroy (for this and other books) in terms of the way people in his novels talk to one another. There seems to be some who dislike the very cleverness that I adore. I love reading the dialogue among these characters ... the things that they say are yet another way that you come to love them all as if they are in your own life. For me, no one does this quite as well as Pat Conroy! And I revel in each and every word!

All in all, South of Broad gives the reader an impressive group of characters to learn about and come to care about. The numerous story lines come together in themes of prejudice, privilege, friendship and love. It moves from Charleston to San Francisco and makes you FEEL both places.

I truly believe that Conroy is a master of American fiction and this novel is yet another example of his impressive skill! I love his books and will be purchasing this one for my ongoing collection of Conroy novels that I love to return to over and over again!

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