Recently while I was on a vacation trip I started reading Pat Conroy’s latest novel, South of Broad (2009). I was staying with friends and they had both just finished reading it. They were both disappointed because it was “just so unbelievable.” I love Conroy’s writing; I think that he could write the text on the back of a cereal box and it would be homage to the grains and sugars inside the box.
I had high hopes because the opening lines are so reminiscent of Prince of Tides (1986). However, my friends are right. South of Broad is just too unbelievable. Its characters are over the top, the story is too complicated with too many storylines and characters, and it is simply not believable at all. There are 18 year olds that talk with the wit and maturity of 30 year olds.
But…his writing is so poetic I still read the entire book and had a hard time putting it down.
The setting is Charleston in the 1960’s and the late 1980’s. The main character is mature beyond his years after living through hell. His brother has killed himself and he was arrested for having a huge amount of cocaine in his possession at age 15 or 16. He befriends a group of other teenagers – all high school seniors and all new to the high school where his ex-nun mother is the principal. There are the three orphans, one black and two are “mountain trash” from North Carolina. There is the son of the new black coach that none of the white students will play for. There is the rich, Charleston elite kid, his sister, and his girlfriend all of whom transfer to the public school after being booted from private school for possession of drugs. Lastly there are the twins – both beautiful – one a talented effeminate gay man and the other a Hollywood starlet in the making. The twins’ mother is a drunk running from their father – who happens to be a homicidal maniac. There is a ton of angst in this book!
The novel gently goes between the fabled senior year of legendary football games, infamous racial tension, and interaction with the high society of Charleston – south of Broad Street; and, the friends as adults searching for their missing gay friend in AIDS ravaged San Francisco in the late 1980’s so they can bring him home to care for him. Some of the best writing is about this search, it is heartbreaking. Oh, and then there is Hurricane Hugo as well.
If you are not a Pat Conroy fan, don’t read this book. Go back and read Prince of Tides or Beach Music or Lords of Discipline or The Water is Wide…any Conroy but this Conroy. Well I would skip My Losing Season as well, but that’s me.