A Moving Novel That Does Not Flinch at Controversy

"South of Broad" by Pat Conroy is a beautiful, haunting tale of friendship, love and disappointment.  Breathtakingly set in Charleston, South Carolina, it tells the story of an unlikely group of high school friends and follows them through adulthood and the decades of the 60's, 70's and 80's.   It is an intricate story of love, jealousy, guilt, loneliness and shameful secrets as it weaves it way through the dramatic changes that took place in American during the later part of the 20th Century.  It does not flinch in discussing issues such as racism, abuse, cruelty, AIDS and class consciousness.  In some parts, this novel is almost poetic in its descriptions of Charleston, South Carolina and, later, San Francisco, California.  From its stunning images of Charleston, it is clear that the author loves the ambiance of this city, including the old mansions and sea breezes of this charming, historic city.

 

What I Liked About This Novel

Much like Pat Conroy's earlier novel, "The Prince of Tides," the characters in, "South of Broad" are fully developed, fascinating, yet somewhat tragic people.  Each of them carries into adulthood the scars of their painful, sometimes frightening, childhoods.As they struggle to achieve success and happiness, they also must deal with their own demons.  As hard as Leo, the narrator, and his friends Sheba, Trevor, Niles, Starla, Molly and Chadworth will try to escape their troubled childhoods, and their painful relationships with their parents and each other, they ultimately find themselves weighed down by the past in ways that threaten to destroy them.  This is a beautifully written novel full of complicated people.

What Seemed Awkward in This Novel

As much as I loved this novel, it seemed at times a little too contrived that nearly all their relationships continued to be within their own tight knit circle of friends.In real life, we often are able to set ourselves free from our childhoods simply because we are able to meet new people, develop new connections and separate ourselves from the toxic relationships that threatened us in the past  .However, the group of friends in "South of Broad" seems at times to be so unnaturally close that none of them are able to survive outside of their intimate circle.

Bottom Line:

 

My Southern California book club loved reading this novel.  The rich descriptions of Charleston and San Francisco, the fully developed, though somewhat tragic characters, all set against the backdrops of the vastly different decades of the 1960's and the 1980's, made for compelling reading.  Although we found ourselves hoping that all these damaged, yet very human individuals would ultimately be able to find complete joy and happiness in their lives, the realism of the story made us realize that a sense of peace and contentment was the best we could ultimately wish for these characters.

 

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photo courtesy of photoxpress.com

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South of Broad: A Novel
Amazon Price: $16.00 $4.29 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 9, 2016)
It is available in several formats, including paperback and as a Kindle download.