Thursday, April 29, 2010

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

South of Broad
by Pat Conroy
Nan. A Talese, 2009
528 pages

Publisher's summary:
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 thoughts:

Exciting, exhilarating ... exhausting!

It's taken 14 years, but Pat Conroy has created another southern masterpiece. South of Broad, set mostly in Charleston, features the grand themes of religion, class, race and the bonds of family/friendship, but it it also includes just about every social issue I can think of - integration, suicide, mental illness, AIDS, abuse, poverty... Throw in team sports, military education, an affair or two, and a natural disaster (Hurricane Hugo), and you begin to get an idea of it's scope. There is seriously enough material here for three novels. By the end of the book, I felt like I'd been through an emotional wringer... and I loved every page of it!

South of Broad's plot will keep you turning pages into the wee hours and the characters will linger in your mind long after you've finished the last chapter. Of course, you'll find Conroy's signature lush, lyrical prose, too.
At first we fished wordlessly and let the primal silence of the river translate us into no more than drifting shapes. The tide was a poem that only time could create, and I watched it stream and brim and make it's steady dash homeward, to the ocean. The sun was sinking fast, and a laundry line full of cirrus clouds stretched along the western sky like boats of white linen, then surrendered to a shiver of gold that haloed my father's head. The river held the gold shine for a brief minute, then went dark as the moon rose up behind us. In silence, we fished as father and son, each watching his line. (page 80)
A few words on Pat Conroy

Before reading my first Pat Conroy novel, "author" and "fan" were words I'd never considered using in the same sentence. I was an avid reader, had several favorite authors, but "fan" didn't exactly describe the relationship. The word seemed more appropriate to use with a band, singer, team, maybe even an athlete... not an author. In 1986, The Prince of Tides changed all that. By the time I read Beach Music in 1995, "groupie" might have even seemed fitting.

In 1996, my mother and I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Conroy speak during The Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series second season. We were positively entranced! The entire audience was under a spell. Quite a few lecturers have come and gone since then (I'm even a season ticket holder now), but that evening remains one of the most memorable.

Pat Conroy's novels also inspired my own visit to Charleston. In the late 1990's, when the girls were young and my parents agreed to a long weekend of babysitting, I surprised my husband with a "mystery trip" for Valentine's Day. Charleston, and the Charleston Place Hotel, was our destination. The city was all I'd hoped for and, after reading the novels, it almost felt like visiting an old friend.

Be sure to visit Pat Conroy's website for further information.


South Of Broad will be released in paperback on May 4. The publisher has generously offered a copy to one of my readers. If you're interested, let me know in the comments. Please include your email address. I'll draw a winner on May 6. The publisher will ship the book - open to residents of the US and Canada only.

This post is part of a TLC Book Tour. A review copy was provided by the publisher. The complete tour schedule may be found here.


  1. It's going on my wish list right now. I never remember to read his books, but when I do (Prince of Tides and Beach Music), I always love them.

    His books also gave me a better understanding of mental illness than I've received from any other source.

  2. I would love to be entered in your giveaway, JoAnn. While I have not read any of the author's works (yet) he has been on my radar for quite some time.

    Mstermind1 at gmail dot com

  3. YOu know, I was holding back on this one because I had read that it just didn't live up to Beach Music and Prince of Tides. But I so trust your judgement. So I'm going to go for it! Please enter me! rnawrot at cfl dot rr dot com

  4. I felt like I had been through the wringer too when I was done. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one inspired to visit Charleston because of his books. Now I just have to get there!!

  5. I've yet to read a Pat Conroy book, but I've read some quotes that have made me melt. From what I've seen he is such a talented writer, and I simply must prioritize him on my list. I may start with this one, thanks to your review.

  6. Don't enter me in the giveaway JoAnn. I've got a copy already. I'm glad to hear your thoughts about this book. I've just put together the fall schedule for my book group and we will read this one for September. I'm excited about it. I loved PRINCE OF TIDES.

  7. Sounds like quite a book. I'd love to be entered.

  8. I had no idea this was coming up--awesome! Thanks for such a great review--I cannot wait to get my hands on this one!

    I'd love to win your giveaway copy ;)


  9. Rose City Reader - This is his first novel since Beach Music, so you haven't missed any. I always love them, too!

    Molly - Maybe this will be your chance :-) I've been a fan for a long time!

    Sandy - Well it's not Beach Music, but Pat Conroy still tells such a great story... and that writing...

    Staci - It did feel like I'd been through the wringer by the end... I was exhausted! Charleston is a gorgeous city and I'm glad his books planted the idea to visit.

    PeachyTO - If you like books set in the south, Pat Conroy is not to be missed! Beach Music is still my favorite though.

    Kay - Can't wait to hear what you group thinks of this one... and what they latch onto for discussion. There are so many topics to choose from!

    Carol - It is! You name is in the hat.

    DanaB - You're welcome. I've entered your name in the drawing.

  10. I haven't read anything by this author, after looking at some of his books on Amazon I can see that he certainly writes epics! I have added Beach Music to me wish list.

  11. Thanks for your review - I enjoyed your personal story of hearing the author speak and how he entranced the audience!

    No need to enter me - I have this one on the shelf and will read it soon!

  12. Jessica - I think Beach Music is a great place to start. Thanks for visiting!

    Booksnyc - Pat Conroy was such a wonderful speaker! I'd love to have the chance to hear him again sometime. Hope you enjoy South of Broad when you get to it.

  13. Hi JoAnn! Sorry I'm so late in getting over here! Great review- I'm so pleased you enjoyed the book. Beach Music and Prince of Tides were favorites of mine years ago but I haven't read any Conroy in a long time. I must remedy that!!

    Thanks so much for being on the tour!

  14. LisaMM - You're welcome, and I appreciated the opportunity to read a new book by an old favorite!

  15. I loved this book, as well! And we both quoted the same passage. :)

    I don't know if you know, but he has another book coming out in September! It's called My Life in Books.

  16. Les - Isn't that funny we both pulled the same passage from a 500 page book! I'm feeling like I may need to reread Beach Music this summer. This is the first I've heard of a new book coming in September, but you can be sure I'll be buying it in hardcover!

  17. Just finished this last night and also loved it. I would love to visit Charleston!

    I'm going to be linking to your review with mine.

  18. Melissa - Wasn't this great! It would be so nice to visit Charleston with the book fresh in your mind... such a beautiful city! Thanks for linking.


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