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Book Review: South of Broad by Pat Conroy

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What a joy to walk the streets of Charleston again with this fantastic author. I can see the gentle piazzas & the gardens peeking thru hedges, feel the wind from the harbor and smell the magnolia. The characters, as only southerners could do, end vile confrontations with polite separation. Each person is so well-drawn that you know where they are headed while not quite sure of where they’ve been. I must say though, that his mother takes me back too vividly to the nuns who did their best to stifle our imaginations, increase our guilt, and flatten our fragile egos. Mr. Conroy, sometimes you can write too well. At the same time, the wealth of characters that surround him, and complete him, show what a lucky person Leo King is to have even one, let alone a cadre of such eternal friends.

The book follows twenty years in the life of Leo King, “Toad,” and the friends he finds on Bloomsday the summer before senior year in high school. The initial meetings give no indication that Leo will be the cement that holds these people together. As an unlikely team they will create a home guard, as it were, covering all strata of the social world that is Charleston. They do all the “right” things for their given histories but still connect and encourage their friends in what are certainly diametrically opposed lifestyles. Together, they are a fortress-like entity that neither the most perverse mind nor the fiercest gale can breach. Just when you think all the trials and travails are finished, the author will slap you right in the face with another.

This book will take you to the magic land of writing and show you the way it’s supposed to be done. It takes you on a roller coaster of emotions: the laughs are hysterical; the tension’s climb slow & grinding; and the heartbreak a breathtaking drop. Conroy has a Irishman’s vivid imagination, a Brit’s command of English, a Greek’s sense of drama, and a Charlestonian’s sense of the family you only find in a real community.

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