Pat Conroy's South of Broad

Pat Conroy’s South of Broad is a dud. Which is really, really too bad, too. Fans have been waiting since 1995 for the Lowcountry author to produce a brand-new novel. Here’s my review for Atlanta’s Creative Loafing.

The title South of Broad, Pat Conroy’s first novel in nearly 15 years, refers to the informal name given to a section of Charleston, S.C., almost exclusively inhabited for generations by the city’s de facto aristocracy. Living south of Broad is a point of pride for Conroy’s hero, Leopold Bloom King. Leo comes from truly common stock. His father is a science teacher; his mom a former nun. Leo, however, sees himself reflected in the neighborhood’s gorgeous cityscape. The fact that he’s also the ringleader of an audaciously diverse group of friends suggests a kind of redemption for this former seat of the Confederacy. It’s a well-intentioned moral that could have been more affecting if South of Broad didn’t fall apart at the end.

South of Broad begins with the suicide of Leo’s older brother Stephen in the late ’60s. The 10-year-old’s death nearly destroys Leo. His parents send him to a sanitarium where he experiences psychological horrors only a handful of people might ever understand. Leo manages to befriend other damaged psyches, though, and together they grow up, grow apart, and reunite in an attempt to save one of their own from a dark end. Most of the novel comprises episodes that illustrate and re-illustrate how people of such diverse backgrounds could become lifelong friends. And how friendships like theirs could withstand unfathomable acts of pure evil. Unfortunately, Conroy’s band of brothers and sisters proves fairly cumbersome.

The whole review …

August 19, 2009 1:12 PM | | Comments (17)

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17 Comments

I do not like this book by Pat Conroy. I was very disappointed because he has accustomed us to much better!

This was the worse of Pat Conroy....What a compete dissapointment. He is better than this.

South of Broad was mostly wonderful. Conroy is so poetic and on-the-money about the captivation Charleston offers. I once lived there. Although the characters, Sheba and Trevor were quite entertaining they were just a bit overdone, the sexpot and the flamboyant gay man. They never failed to be carrying on about their sexualities. Tiring. Still, it was so good, I couldn't put it down but then one part of the ending was off the chart poor -- making the priest a really bad guy. It was too much of a downer. I would still recommend it but I'd give a warning to anyone about the downer parts.

I am reading this book now, and somehow I can't help but hold the story at bay. As others here have noted, the whole things really escapes reality. I feel like Pat Conroy has palled around with Anne Rivers Siddons too much. Her books have always (the latter ones more so than the earlier ones) stretched the realm of possibility, and they seem to get sillier with the passage of time. Yet, she has been a good beach read. I had never held her and Conroy on the same level, but I feel like they are merging into the same path of over-written tragedy that makes us all voyeurs, exploiting tragedy for entertainment. I will finish the book, and I will pass it on, with a warning.

As with all other Pat Conroy’s books, I loved South of Broad too, and just couldn’t put it down. It has some immensely likable characters, people I would like to be like or, at least, to know. And there are also those who are incredibly mean and evil. I fell in love with Leo, and want to believe there are men out there like him. I think the characters Pat Conroy creates ARE realistic and believable (all one has to do to see the goodness in people is to watch shows such as Extreme Makeover on ABC-TV on Sundays. Unfortunately, the evilness of people is displayed on the news every day, everywhere). Rich people are, very frequently, insensitive and prejudiced against the less fortunate, and don’t think they are the same kind of human beings as the rich ones, themselves. The rich can, and sometimes do, change their minds and attitudes about the non-rich, depending on the circumstances affecting their lives. So can the ones that are racially prejudiced, but I think less easily.
I also fell in love with his description of Charleston and the South all over again. It happens every time I read one of his books. I am from Rio (de Janeiro) and was in love with that city for as long as I lived there, so I understand very well Pat Conroy’s love affair with his city. I am still smitten with Rio every time I go back.
Somebody wrote that everyone in this book cries too much, all the time. I am glad this person, and the people in his or her life, obviously hasn’t had many reasons to cry. But I can guarantee that there are many, many people that are not so lucky. My children have told me they are aware that every family is dysfunctional, but they are absolutely sure that none is as bad as ours. There have been many tragedies in our lives, major and minor, and we have cried, and still do cry, quite frequently. As a matter of fact, every time our deeper wounds are touched. But we also cry frequently with laughter, and out of pride at our accomplishments, and out of love for each other. So, there!

I like the comments from Linda on September 14, 2009. "South of Broad" was my second Pat Conroy read, having devoured "The Prince of Tides" when it first came out. I could not put down "South of Broad" when I read it. Pat Conroy writes far too well to deserve any of the shallow criticism he has received on this site. Having just finished "Beach Music," I'm anxious to read all his other works. He has become my favorite author....he makes me think he knows my family....and I will survive them!

Disappointing book. I expected better things from Mr. Conroy and instead got a gussied-up rehash of the formula from "The Lords of Discipline", a novel that I greatly admire, by the way. But that formula doesn't work here, with this plot and these characters, and the whole thing strains to hold together only to ultimately succeed in straining the reader's sense of reality. I know that this is a novel and novels are make believe with crumbs of truth strewn here and there among the fantasies but in this tale Mr. Conroy is taking the reader's sense of credulity for granted. He is a much better storyteller than this effort demonstrates.

I thought the book was wonderful. I really savored it. The descriptions of San Francisco and the aids epidemic really hit home. I was a bit sentimental and all over the place but still such a good read. Brought lots of tears to my eyes.

Beach Music is the only book I've ever read twice. I wasn't sure Pat Controy could do it again, but he has. I love this story, and I love all the people he has created. I haven't even finished it yet and wish it would not end. Ok so maybe there wasn't enough of the "true" sixties in it, but then again, I didn't live in the south, who am I to say it wasn't like that there? And anyway, it's fiction. It is entertaining me and making me wish I knew more people like Leo King.

The following is a letter I wrote to Pat Conroy and posted on his blog.

Dear Mr. Conroy:

Your words are to my soul like a cardio vascular machine is to my body. My heart is exercised by the feelings invoked from your phrasing.

I can never tire of reading your sentences. I thought I would be when I heard about South of Broad. How could it ever be placed on the same shelf as Beach Music, Prince of Tides and all your other books?

But it has. It matches the pathos and the grandeur of your past works.

Thank you. Thank you for giving us another book with a story and not another cook book.
It made perfect sense that you would write a cook book given the succulent details included in your past stories, but I prefer reading over cooking any day.

After reading My Losing Season I was afraid I'd never read another book by you. And now I have and my life is once again charged with awe at its story.

Ever since Gone with the Wind, I have been smitten by The South. Then after reading your books I fell in love with The South. Yet I love my neighborhood and can't imagine ever parting from it in this life time. I feel the same way about Forest Hills Gardens as Toad does about Charleston. I hope someday to share that love with readers such as you have.

If there was ever another book to be added to the Bible it would be one of yours.

As already mentioned by others, I waited a long time for another book by Mr. Conroy. Not nearly up to par with his others--interesting story but so much of it was so far fetched. Even though I am a "half empty" kind of guy hard to believe the main character could be as saintlike as Leo is in the book. I am finding that a lot of my favorite authors are running out of gas. I don't know if it's the pressure exerted by their publishers to just get something out there for the authors non critical fans or what. No matter as Pat Conroy is still one of the best writers I have ever read!

Although I am enjoying reading this book and wishing there were more characters like this bunch in real life(with a few exceptions) I am flabbergasted that this made it by a team of editors. I think Mr. Conroy has confused their senior year of 1969 with his own in the earlier years. This was the time of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Fifth Dimension not sock hops in the gym and dancing to Wonderland by Night by Bert Kaemphert. The actions of these young people were from the early 60's not the years of protests and Woodstock. I also believe that smiley faces (a continuing feature)did not exist until sometime in the 70's. There were major continuity breaks that did not make one want to put the book down but contributed to some distraction.

Yes, I am a Pat Conroy fan, and yes I have read South of Broad. Not the best of his work. A few things strike me as I doubt it really happened, like cocane in Charleston in 1969, and could it happen, like the rescue of a Dolphin after the hurricane. But I also recall the shame I felt as a Marine stationed in North Carolina in the 60s. More than once I was told that 'my kind' did not belong with 'their kind.' I recall unfondly the lines drawn with regard to race, color and bloodline. Many things about this book bring back memories I thought I had put to bed. Thanks for that Pat Conroy. Yes, flowery language and some stretch of the imagination. But I also recall the life affirming images of a dolphin, so it isn't with great surprise that this image is brought to bear on the events of the book. Yes, big book and big story. It kept me glued to the book for two days. All in all I think the wait of nearly 15 years was worth the wait, I give the book and Conroy's effort two trumbs up.

I guess I just love a good yarn. I found the book to be very entertaining and couldn't put it down. I was not attempting to compare it to Pat Conroy's prior novels. I enjoyed the book as a "stand alone" and while "leo" can be a little too good to believe, it lends us all to want to be a better person to our friends and people we enconter.

I have just purchased the book South of Broad. I have been waiting for 15 years to read my favorite author. I am a Southerner. I truly hope I am not displeased with this effort. I will ignore what I have read here on this page and make up my mind. I always find redeeming qualities in the gifted author's works.

I called Barnes and Noble tonight to see if I could get my money back on the book and the DVD of South of Broad; "No," on the DVD, "yes" on the book. The book goes back - does anyone want to buy the DVDs? How could anyone write this after such classics as POT, Beach Music, TGS, the list goes on and on - truly my favorite author. South of Broad is the treatise of an author who has gone south. Please, Pat, stick to telling the truth; don't try to make it up. A fan in Tucson, William Killian.

reads like a combination of a bad "Big Chill" redo and an episode from "90210".

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This page contains a single entry by FlyOver published on August 19, 2009 1:12 PM.

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