South of Broad by Pat Conroy
Published by: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published on: August 2009
Page Count: 528
Genre: Literary Fiction
Format: Review copy sent to me by the publisher
Availability: hardcover, eBook, and audio book
Giveaway: The publisher is graciously allowing me to giveaway one trade paperback copy of South of Broad to one of my readers. Please see the end of this review for more details.
Today it is my great pleasure to be Pat Conroy’s host on his TLC Book Tour for his novel, South of Broad. I would like to thank his publisher for sending me a review copy. I would also like to thank them for providing a copy to giveaway on this blog! Please see the end of my review for a list of the blogs who are on this tour with me.
I have a lot of fun working as a tour host for TLC Book Tours. They always have great books and authors on tour. Check out their website for more information on this tour and the others that they are hosting.
Leopold Bloom King has a great deal to live up to. He’s named after James Joyce’s most famous characters and his mother, a former Roman Catholic nun, is his local school principal. After the suicide death of his older, beloved brother, Leo has trouble dealing with his own grief and the weight of knowing that he can never live up his brother Steve’s potential. He spends much of his adolescent years in treatment for mental illness, including a stay at a mental hospital. As a high school freshman he finally returns back to the world only to be arrested on a serious drug charge. His life is a mess on Bloomsday of 1969, the day his mother asks him a few favors. Those favors lead him back into a normal life and introduce him to the first friends he’s ever had in his peer group. His life is forever changed, but not without a price.
There is so much going on in South of Broad. it is split up into two time periods – the 1969-1970 school year, and 1989. Half of the time, it’s like reading about the grandparents of the cast of Glee during the prime of their lives. You have a misfit band of high school students thrown together by circumstances not always to their liking. In addition to awkward middle class Leo, there are the glamor twins Sheba and Trevor, the high society trio of Chad, Fraser, and Molly (doesn’t every Leo need his Molly?), the near-wild orphans Niles, Starla, and Betty, and finally Ike, the son of Peninsula High School’s first black football coach. During their senior year of high school, the adults create just as much havoc for them as their own fumblings toward adulthood. The other half is like attending a 20-year high school reunion. You see how their beginnings shaped their lives. You see how single events can have shocking and far-reaching impacts long down the road.
As Leo’s group of friends range from just about every social class in Charleston during a time of desegregation, they had to cover a great deal of new territory in order to make their friendships work in the beginning and last over the long haul. Perhaps in order to mask their insecurities and discomfort, they were often sarcastic with each other, relying on stereotypes and not-so-PC name calling. After a while, this got to be a bit much for me. I would hope that after 20 years I wouldn’t need to hide behind my classifications within society to communicate with my friends – regardless of the region in which I grew up. I wished that as the characters grew into adulthood that they would have developed a little more in that way as well. It kept me an arm’s distance away from the characters, muting what might have otherwise a much more emotional experience.
One of the toughest and most fulfilling classes I took as an undergraduate (or even as a graduate student) was devoted to studying James Joyce. I studied with an amazing professor and have been forever proud of my accomplishment of reading that book. For this reason, I connected with South of Broad immediately. It made my heart happy how the book began and ended on Bloomsday. Despite Leo and his father’s propensity to roll their eyes at her, I know exactly what excited Leo’s mother about Ulysses. Conroy’s inclusion of Ulysses wasn’t simply name dropping. South of Broad shares the themes of class structure and faith with Ulysses. Leo’s paper route brought me directly into Charleston, giving the story the same strong a sense of place that Joyce did. Despite not getting as close to the characters as I would have liked, I loved this novel and look forward to reading more of Conroy’s work.
For a chance to win a trade paperback copy of South of Broad, leave a comment on this post by 11:59pm EST on Sunday, May 2nd. In your comment, tell me about a novel you read and enjoyed that referred to another classic book that you loved. I’ve found that I really like that combination.
Pat Conroy’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Now that you know what I think, why not check out these other reviews?
Thursday, April 1st: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Monday, April 5th: Lit and Life
Tuesday, April 6th: Rundpinne
Wednesday, April 7th: Meanderings and Muses
Friday, April 9th: Luxury Reading
Monday, April 12th: Books and Cooks
Tuesday, April 13th: The Brain Lair
Wednesday, April 14th: Po(sey) Sessions
Thursday, April 15th: Raging Bibliomania
Monday, April 19th: Life in the Thumb
Tuesday, April 20th: Maggie Reads
Thursday, April 22nd: Stephanie’s Written Word
Friday, April 23rd: Sherri’s Jubilee
Tuesday, April 27th: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, April 28th: Library Queue
Thursday, April 29th: Lakeside Musing
Friday, April 30th: A Circle of Books