Sunday, November 28, 2010
Book Review: "South of Broad" by Pat Conroy
I've read all but one of Pat Conroy's books and every one of them has made me cry. While I've acknowledged numerous times that I'm an utter sap, Conroy has a way of tugging at your emotions and completely pulling you into a story even if you might not empathize with all of the characters. And so it is with his first novel in 14 years, South of Broad.
It is the summer of 1969, and Leo "Toad" King, a sensitive, introspective student, is about to enter his senior year of high school in Charleston, SC. Life has been tumultuous for Leo following his older brother's unexplained suicide several years before, which led to Leo's own mental and legal challenges. The suicide is something no one in his family, especially his strict mother, who is principal of Leo's high school, has gotten over. But just before the school year starts, Leo befriends a number of new students at his mother's directionorphaned siblings Niles and Starla, and their friend, Betty; troubled twins Sheba and Trevor; disgraced "society children" Chad, Molly and Fraser; and Ike, the son of the new African-American football coachand all form lifelong friendships. The story flashes back and forth between 1969 and 1989, when the friends gather together to deal with a number of crises.
Pat Conroy does melodrama really well. Quite often I felt the characters traveled from one crisis to another, and sometimes the chaos seemed too overblown. But through it all, despite the fact that many of the characters seemed like one-dimensional stereotypes (the melodramatic actress, the privileged Southerners who value appearance over happiness, the sassy gay man), I became tremendously attached to them, and really felt compelled to keep reading in order to see what happened. Much of the dialogue between characters (especially Leo) was a little overly sarcastic and I could have done without the stalker/murder mystery plot, but regardless, I really enjoyed this book and feel a little sad that it's over now. If you like Pat Conroy, you'll like this book, and if you're a soap opera fan, I think you'll like it as well. I always appreciate a good cry when I'm reading anyway.