Thursday, April 1, 2010

SOUTH OF BROAD - Pat Conroy

FIRST SENTENCE: "It was my father who called the city the Mansion on the River."

SOUTH OF BROAD is an epic tale with an epic hero. Leopold Bloom King, Leo, is the awkward son of educators. He was left an only child when his handsome, popular, talented brother Steve committed suicide. Leo's awkwardness prevented him from fitting in the way Steve managed to fit in, but Leo found his place in a group that to outsiders may have appeared as misfits: orphans, African-Americans, a young gay male and his promiscuous sister, as well as a few kids from the "good side of the tracks." This group of friends didn't meld immediately but instead had to overcome their prejudices toward the other members of the group. Leo was the glue that held them together and often opened their eyes to the similarities as opposed to their differences. But once the managed to unite, they were devoted to each other for a lifetime. They experienced the growing pains of adolescence and the teenage years, attended college, married within the group, and stumbled into adulthood together. For two decades this group weathers the storms of life together.

Conroy illustrates the beauty of the South and simultaneously juxtaposes it with some of the ugliest of the South's blemishes. His artistic command of language pulls the reader into the lives of ordinary people and demands that he/she experience them as extraordinary human beings, making it easy to see how the common man can exemplify "hero."

Like his namesake, Leo is traveling. But instead of traveling through one day, Leo is traveling through a life. He is not only affected by the many people he encounters, but he affects them as well. And at the end of his travels, the reader is able to celebrate not one Bloom's Day but rather a King's lifetime.

Like Burke's bayous of Louisiana, Conroy's Charleston of Carolina is essential to his tales. His knowledge of the landscape and his talent for painting that landscape onto his pages, whispering its secrets into the prose, and sprinkling the bouquet of scents throughout the plot enhances the characters and themes so they are not separate entities but rather one cohesive story:
"As a boy, in my own backyard I could catch a basket of blue crabs, a string of flounder, a dozen redfish, or a net full of white shrimp. All this I could do in a city enchanting enough to charm cobras out of baskets, one so corniced and filigreed and elaborate that it leaves strangers awed and natives self-satisfied. In its shadows you can find metalwork as delicate as lace and spiral staircases as elaborate as yachts. In the secrecy of its gardens you can discover jasmine and camellias and hundreds of other plants that look embroidered and stolen from the Garden of Eden for the sheer love of richness and the joy of stealing from the gods. In its kitchens, the stoves are lit up in a happiness as the lamb in marinating in red wine sauce, vinaigrette is prepared for the salad, crabmeat is anointed with sherry, custards are baked in the oven, and buttermilk biscuits cool on the counter."
Some may argue that the events of SOUTH OF BROAD are a bit grandiose, but Conroy is writing an epic tale about a King, living in a mansion. Anything less would be unfitting.

It isn't often that I review a non-crime fiction novel on the blog, but many of you know I'm a devout Pat Conroy fan, and SOUTH OF BROAD is a prime example of why. I've come to hold Conroy to a high standard in his quality of writing. SOUTH OF BROAD did not disappoint. By the conclusion of the novel, I loved Charleston almost as much as Leo did. I loved Leo's friends almost as much as Leo did. And I loved Leo almost as much as Conroy did. Plus, Conroy throws in some plot twists that would give the great thriller writers a run for their money!

This review is the first stop on the SOUTH OF BROAD blog tour through TLC Blog Tours promoting the release of SOUTH OF BROAD in trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0385344074), which is available for pre-order now and will be out May 4, 2010. Available immediately, you can purchase SOUTH OF BROAD in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0385413053). You can find the other stops on the blog tour here.

The generous folks at Random House have offered a trade paperback copy of SOUTH OF BROAD to one of my readers, so if you'd like your chance at a copy, please complete the form below to be entered in the drawing. I will accept entries until April 9th. This contest is open to readers in the U.S. or Canada only. If you have any questions, feel free to drop it in the comments or email me. Good luck!


9 comments:

LisaMM April 1, 2010 at 1:22 AM  

Jen! I'm so happy you enjoyed South of Broad! Thanks so much for being on the tour, even though it wasn't crime fiction. We really appreciate the time you put into reading and reviewing Conroy's latest. You're awesome!!

Literate Housewife April 1, 2010 at 8:54 AM  

I am so glad you liked this book, Jen. I will be on the book tour myself later this month. I can't wait to get started!

Joanna April 2, 2010 at 12:23 AM  

I love crime fiction and mysteries, as well, but southern lit is my other love. Conroy is one of my favorites (especially The Prince of Tides, which was a much better novel than a movie). I also loved South of Broad and wrote a glowing review of it, too. Although he doesn't often do speaking engagements, I'm hoping perhaps he will make an appearance at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville this fall. Thank you for your wonderful reviews (this one included)!

Anonymous April 2, 2010 at 5:58 PM  

Sorry to break up the lovefest here, but I thought ths site was about crime and mystery books. This is neither, so why does it belong here -- because Random House is being generous to give away....(drumroll please)....ONE TRADE PAPERBACK!! Seriously, man. I just started to receive your emails. I like getting emails about crime fiction, not this...well, whatever it is. Sorry to have to disagree on this one.

Jen Forbus April 2, 2010 at 6:16 PM  

Anonymous, I'm sorry that you aren't interested in SOUTH OF BROAD. My blog is primarily crime fiction as I stated, however, I would like to clarify that I chose to post this review because I have always liked Pat Conroy. I've been reading his work for many years now. I chose to be a part of this blog tour before being told that there would be a copy of the book to give away, so this post would have gone up if there was no giveaway.

I've found that a great many people who also enjoy crime fiction enjoy and have read Conroy's work. I'm sorry you aren't included in that group.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

angie April 2, 2010 at 6:17 PM  

I have been wanting to read this book:)

Jon The Crime Spree Guy April 2, 2010 at 7:54 PM  

Most people who like Crime fiction do like Pat Conroy, and since it's your site, post what you want.

I read this because I trust your judgment on books, what ever genre they fall into.

SuziQoregon April 2, 2010 at 8:04 PM  

I really want to read South of Broad and also enjoy both crime fiction and Pat Conroy's books.

Jen: it's your blog - post whatever you want.

Tessa in South Africa April 4, 2011 at 2:58 AM  

I have just finished South of Broad, and feel depressed to have to leave behind the beautiful city of Charleston and say goodbye to the colourful characters of the book. Pat Conroy has done it again.

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