Synopsis: Against the sumptuous backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina, South of Broad gathers a unique cast of sinners & saints. Leopold Bloom King, our narrator, is the son of an amiable, loving father who teaches science at the local high school. His mother, an ex-nun, is the high school principal & a respected Joyce scholar. After Leo's older brother commits suicide at the age of ten, the family struggles with the shattering effects of his death, & Leo, lonely & isolated, searches for something to sustain him. Eventually he finds his answer when he becomes part of a tightly knit group of high school seniors that includes friends Sheba & Trevor Poe, glamorous twins with an alcoholic mother & a prison-escapee father; hardscrabble mountain runaways Niles & Starla Whitehead; socialite Molly Huger & her boyfriend, Chadworth Rutledge X - & an ever-widening circle whose liaisons will ripple across two decades, from 1960s counterculture through the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
The ties among them endure for years, surviving marriages happy & troubled, unrequited loves & unspoken longings, hard-won successes & devastating breakdowns, as well as Charleston's dark legacy of racism & class divisions. But the final test of friendship that brings them to San Francisco is something no one is prepared for.
First Line: "It was my father who called the city the Mansion on the River."
Random Quote: "From my house on Tradd Street, I walk west to Church Street as the Charleston heat hits me with a body blow that is part humidity & part horse latitude. The houses along Church are set like gemstones against the sidewalk; the honeybees are working overtime in the flower boxes overflowing with lantana; the scents of jasmine & lilies of the valley catch me off guard, but the lush fragrance of a mock orange makes me happy to be alive."
Review: I've always enjoyed Pat Conroy's books. I like his writing style & use of language, his storytelling, & how very Southern he is so I was very excited to read South of Broad, his first novel in 14 years.
The novel is a love letter to Charleston, San Francisco, & the enduring bonds of friends
Image by Eric Olson via Flickrhip. It is the story of a motley crew of friends who meet in their senior year of high school & bond for life. Brought together by the narrator, nicknamed Toad for his coke bottle glasses, each of them grow up to achieve in life in their own ways. Reunited in adversity by Sheba Poe, the movie star half of a glamorous pair of twins, the friends set off for San Francisco to find Sheba's missing brother, Trevor, dying of AIDS & disappeared into the Tenderloin.
As always, Conroy exhibits a keen eye for the absurd & ironic & a fine clear hand with great melodrama in the manner of Douglas Sirk. Like Sirk's films, this novel is sweeping in its technicolor majesty and an entertaining ride all the way through. It was worth waiting 14 years for this one - hope Mr. Conroy doesn't make us wait this long again.
As an aside, this is my 100th post on this blog. Thanks for everyone who's read, commented, & shared their own love of books. It's been fun so far & I'm looking forward to 100 more posts!