Tuesday, August 11, 2009

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Title: South of Broad
Author: Pat Conroy
ISBN: 9780385413053, Doubleday, 2009
Genre: Fiction
Rating: A

First Line: It was my father who called the city the Mansion on the River.

It is said that Pat Conroy has a remarkable command of the language of the heart. For me over the years, this has been very true. Where some may see sentimentality, melodrama, and florid prose, I have always seen the mists of memory and the abiding power of friendship to transform and to strengthen. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

When I learned that, at long last, a new Conroy novel was about to be published, I was happy. When I discovered that the title of the novel was South of Broad I think my smile stretched from ear to ear. To me, "south of Broad" can only mean Charleston, South Carolina, and it is in the beautiful city of Charleston that Conroy places his disparate band of friends.

In 1969, Leo "Toad" King was about to embark on his final year of high school. It's never been particularly easy for Toad. When he was a child, he found the body of his beloved older brother Steve in a blood-filled bathtub-- a suicide. No one knew what on earth could've made this golden teenager take his own life, and in his horror and denial Leo rapidly became a misfit. It is remarkable that, in this final year of high school, he is able to become a part of a very interesting mix of friends: Ike Jefferson, the son of the first black high school football coach in Charleston; two orphans Niles and Starla Whitehead; Molly, Chad and Fraser, members of Charleston aristocracy; and the twins Sheba and Trevor Poe who, along with their alcoholic mother, are on the run from their psychotic father.

The story alternates between these friends' senior year in 1969 and 1989 when Sheba-- now a Hollywood star-- comes back to Charleston to ask her friends to help her find her HIV-positive brother in AIDS ravaged San Francisco. Conroy touches upon some major themes in South of Broad: racism, homosexuality, classism, and religion. Most of all the book is a love letter to Charleston and to the power of friendship.

Leo usually speaks in rather awed tones of his friends. No matter how old he becomes, he will always be "Toad", always the misfit, always the one who doesn't quite measure up to the glamor, style and success of his friends, no matter how nice he genuinely is or how hard he tries. He speaks to all those who have ever felt themselves to be outsiders.

If there is any part of this novel that I had a problem with, it was the plot element concerning Sheba and Trevor's psychotic father. This character was a one-dimensional bogey man that I had a difficult time believing. For the most part, I was carried away on the tide of Leo's memories and of my own of a magical day I spent wandering the streets of Charleston four months before Hurricane Hugo hit. Conroy made me remember a very special city, and he made me remember and give thanks that there are people in the world who truly know how to be friends.

*Review copy provided by Random House through Shelf Awareness.


  1. Oh my gosh, I can't wait to read this! A love letter to Charleston sounds fantastic! I'm so glad you liked it.

  2. I love Pat Conroy, and can't wait to read this one! Thanks for the review.

  3. This is on my TBR pile - I can't wait to read it either!

  4. A novel about people who know how to be friends appeals to me. Have never been to Charleston and have never read a Pat Conroy book. New experience in one book.

  5. Great review! I can relate to the characters, I think, and I even graduated in 1969,and I was an outsider myself. Looking forward to reading this one.

  6. I can't wait to read this!! I loved Beach Music and this sounds like it's got some similarities to that one. I visited Charleston several times while my brother was stationed there (Navy) and I have always enjoyed books set there because the locations are so familiar.

  7. Kathy--You sound as though you're fond of Charleston, too. :)

    JoAnn--You're welcome!

    Rhapsody--I think Pat Conroy has kept readers waiting far too long!

    Margot--Hopefully it will be a wonderful experience!

    joemmama--I graduated in '73 and was always an outsider. Hope you like it!

    SuziQ--I should write something about my day in Charleston. It was a day of Conroy magic.

  8. Oh lucky you to have read this already! I can't wait!!

  9. I bet lots of people are jealous that you have this!!! I visited Charleston once and was just enchanted by it ... and I remember loving "Prince of Tides." Thanks for the heads up on this one.

  10. I need to go to Charleston. And I need to read this one!!!

  11. Beth-- I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Jenners-- You're welcome!

    Louise-- Like Jenners said, Charleston is an enchanted place. I'll have to write about my day there sometime soon.


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!