I couldn’t wait to read South of Broad — Pat Conroy hasn’t written a novel in 14 years — though he did write a memoir (My Losing Season) and a cookbook. I was also curious about the Charleston, South Carolina connection. In Charleston, south of Broad Street (S.O.B.) is teasingly differentiated from slightly north of Broad (SNOB) in reference to the upscale residents there. None of the reviewers seemed to catch this obvious pun. At any rate, I do have to agree with reviewer Chris Bohjalian, who stated, “Even though I felt stage-managed by Conroy’s heavy hand, I still turned the pages with relish.” That’s how I felt, too. The book definitely kept my interest but there were details that irritated me. I questioned the likelihood of all those high school sweethearts actually marrying. I was kept worrying about his brother’s suicide until the very end. I found some of the dialogue forced.
Still — I’d rather have you form your own opinion, so here’s a short synopsis of the plot. The book begins in the summer of 1969, just as the main character (Leopold Bloom King — yes, named after the character in Joyce’s Ulysses) is about to enter his senior year in high school. After a miserable childhood, marked primarily by the unexpected suicide of his golden-boy brother, Leo becomes friends with an unlikely group which includes orphans, blacks, members of the socially elite and charismatic twins, Trevor and Sheba Poe. Fast forward twenty years — Sheba is now a famous movie star and Trevor is wasting away with AIDS. Sheba recruits this same group — still best friends — to find Trevor in San Francisco and bring him back home to Charleston.
In my opinion, this is not Conroy’s best work, but it’s one that many will still enjoy reading.