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Fiction Review – South of Broad

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

 

I’m going to make a confession here: I have never read a novel by Pat Conroy.  I’ve heard lots of wonderful things about him, but as you may or may not know, there are a LOT of books out there.  I can’t read them all, a fact I have almost accepted.  Pat Conroy, while I heard high praise for his work, was just one of those authors I never got around to reading.   

So when his novel “South of Broad” came out, I ordered the audio version.  I drive a lot, and so I listen to books as well as read them.  And I decided, for some reason, that now was the time to delve into Pat Conroy.  I am so glad I did!  

South of Broad is set in Charleston, South Carolina, a city beloved by Conroy and his characters.  We meet Leo Bloom King, an 18-year-old boy on the 16th of June, 1969.  It’s an important summer for Leo, because he meets a group of people who will become his lifelong friends.  He meets orphans Starla and Niles Whitehead, dirt-poor “white trash” from North Carolina; twins Sheba and Trevor Poe, who move in next door and immediately charm everyone they encounter; Chad and Fraser Rutledge, from Charleston’s highest social ranks, and Chad’s girlfriend Molly Huger, who is another high society girl, and finally Ike Jefferson, one of a group of African American students who will be integrated into Leo’s high school in September. 

The story plays out over the senior year of the group of friends.  We follow them through the integration of their school, the racial tensions when Ike’s father is hired as the new football coach, and the frightening appearance of Sheba and Trevor’s violent, psychotic father.  Then we move forward to 1989 to see what has become of everyone.  Leo is a well-known columnist for the Charleston newspaper.  Sheba has gone to Hollywood and become a household name and sex symbol; Ike is the local chief of police; Chad and Molly’s marriage is none too secure, and Niles married Fraser, in spite of her family’s disapproval.  While they have remained in touch through the years, it’s only when one of their group desperately needs help that they all come together and cement their bonds even more strongly. 

At one point, I actually thought to myself, “Pat Conroy has done it. He has spoiled me, with his beautiful writing, for any other author.”  This man can write.   He uses language as a tool, as a means to open our hearts and remember what it feels like to fall in love, to be hurt, to be outraged.  He uses language to make us smell freshly baked cookies, and nail polish, and newsprint.  He uses language to remind us of the common connection we all have, as human beings.  I am in awe of his talent. 

But the book didn’t get glowing reviews, much to my amazement.  I think, if everyone who gave it unfavorable reviews had listened to it, they would have felt differently.  The narrator of South of Broad did a wonderful job of bringing Leo King to life, charming southern accent and all.  He made this story breathe, and his portrayal of each character truly made a difference to my listening pleasure.  He gave me some laugh out loud moments, and I found I couldn’t wait to drive to or from work, just to hear what was going to happen next!  A reader can make or break a book, and I have to say this narrator was a wonderful asset.  I highly recommend listening to this one. 

Now that I have revealed the dark secret that every librarian has an outstanding author which he or she has never read,  I will just end with this:  I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird either.  I know, I know….  

 

 

 

 

 

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