FlyOver: August 2009 Archives
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.