Author: Pat Conroy
Publisher: Dial Press
Publishing Date: 2010
Number of Pages: 512
Genre: Suspense, Mystery, Southern Literature
Leopold look King has been raised in a family shattered – and shadowed – by tragedy. Lonely and adrift, he searches for something to sustain him and finds it among a tightly knit group of high school outsiders. Surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, as well as Charleston, South Carolina’s dark legacy of racism and class divisions, these friends will endure until a final test forces to face something none of them are prepared for.
Pat Conroy’s masterful works has long fascinated me. It all began with Prince of Tides, which most readers regard as his most outstanding work. However, it was Beach Music that has captured my heart. Its magical storytelling is astonishing and something that I look for in books. This was followed by The Lord of Disciplines and The Great Santini, which are both powerfully written narratives that made me fall further in love with Conroy’s works. However, it has been some time since I have read any of his works.
While scavenging through the heaps of books during Book For Less’ warehouse sale in 2015, I encountered one of Conroy’s works, South of Broad. I’ve seen it countless of times in bookstores but I never came to the point of buying it because it seems to lack the vitality that made me fall for Conroy’s works. The title didn’t also pique my curiosity. However, because the book was on sale, I grabbed the book and let it gather dust on my bookshelf.
Come 2018, I finally took notice of the burgeoning collection of books that have gone unread for quite some time. I never thought that I was able to amass that number of books in a short span of time. I made a resolve to go over them one by one. One of the first books that came to mind is South of Broad. In spite of my apprehensions, I had high hopes for the book. It was written by one of my favorite authors after all. However, my apprehensions were proven to be right.
The book’s primary premise is the friendship forged by a bevy of high school outsiders, narrated through the main narrator, Leopold Bloom “Leo” King. Leo is the second son of Lindsay and Jasper King. His mother is the principal of the high school the group of friends went to while his father is a physics teacher. The first thing that caught my attention is Leo and his brother’s name, Stephen Dedalus “Steve”. Their mother is fascinated with James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Leo is an underachiever who lived under the shadows of his older brother, until his brother committed suicide. It was Leo who discovered his brother’s gruesome fate, affecting him both emotionally and psychologically. In spite of numerous trips to psychiatrists, illegal drugs were caught in his possession. He ended up in probation. It was while picking up the pieces of his shattered psyche that he met an unusual group of outsiders who made his senior year more interesting – the twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe; the black football coach’s son, Ike Jefferson; the orphaned siblings, Starla and Niles Whitehead; and the children of Charleston high society, Fraser and Chad Rutledge and Molly Huger.
The members of Leo’s unusual clique of characters share the same profile. They came from either broken or dysfunctional families. The highest form of this dysfunctionality is present in Leo’s own family, with his taciturn and domineering mother who dominates everything and his docile and submissive father who readily agrees to his wife’s every caprice. It is in this imperfection that bonded Leo and his friends. This touch of reality, in spite of their backgrounds, made me appreciate the context of the story. Oh heck, I always love a story about friendship.
Friendship and parenting were extensively dealt with in the book. However, it also touched base on darker subjects like murder, child abuse, pedophilia, sexuality, racism, and domestic violence. Although interrelated, this cornucopia of subjects clouded over the main context of the story. It is too dense, creating a fleeting feeling of a roller-coaster ride. Too many prevailing themes made it a challenge coping up with the story. It didn’t help that there was barely any cohesion amongst these subjects.
Nonetheless, Pat Conroy’s portrayal of human behavior is again on-point. His characterization is at its peak. Because of this, he was able to depict hypocrisy, wit, intelligence and human nature brilliantly. Conroy simply possesses the uncanny ability of putting into life well-developed characters. Leo King alone is an outstanding and witty narrator albeit his humor is clouded by strong language. At times, the strong language was too strong it felt contrived.
The novel’s highest point is Conroy’s art of description. He made me fall in love with Charleston, South Carolina. His impeccable description made me believe that it is indeed the most beautiful city in the USA. But Conroy’s power of description went beyond beauty. His depiction of two grisly situations that affected both sides of the country- racial tension during the 1960s Integration in Charleston and the rise of AIDS cases in San Francisco – was noteworthy. Hats off to Conroy for his ingenuous illustration of two situations in two cities belonging to the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Overall, I was disappointed with the novel. There were too many themes and the language is too obnoxious. There were just too many elements that went wrong. In spite of my lack of expectation for this book, I was nonetheless aghast because I know what Pat Conroy is capable of. There were still glimpses of genius, which is the book’s saving graces. It still reeked of that Southern flair that Conroy remarkably depicts. Of Conroy’s books, South of Broad is a total dampener. Conroy has already proven his mettle and a dampener like South of Broad won’t hinder me from reading his other works.
At one point in the story, Fraser expressed her disgust at their getting caught up in an unsavory situation. That was how I felt as well. I simply wasn’t absorbed as I thought I would be.
Recommend for those who like reading books about the Deep South, and those who like reading books with vivid and great descriptions of places, people and situations.
Not recommend for those who have high expectations of Pat Conroy’s works, those who dislike strong language and those who are looking for light reads.
About The Author
A recognized figure of the late-20th century Southern literature, Donald Patrick “Pat” Conroy has written several critically acclaimed novels and memoirs.
Born on October 26, 1945 in Atlanta, Georgia, he was the eldest of seven children. His father’s job, a marine corps fighter pilot, made the Conroy family move from time to time. By the time Pat was 15, he already attended 11 schools. Finally, his family settled in Beaufort, South Carolina. He graduated from The Citadel, a renowned military school in the state.
Before becoming a full-pledged writer, Pat Conroy taught in Beaufort and in Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. The Water is Wide (1972), his second work after The Boo (1970), is mainly about his experiences as a teacher. Pat Conroy’s most recognized works are The Great Santini (1976), The Lords of Discipline (1980), The Prince of Tides (1986) and Beach Music (1995). The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides were both adapted into Oscar-nominated films.
On March 18, 2009, Pat Conroy was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame. He has married three times and died on March 4, 2016 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.