Book Review: South Of Broad by Pat Conroy

Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars

The South is messed up.  The South is beautiful.  Those two things often go hand in hand in this world.

Pat Conroy does two things better than anyone else I know.  First, he is the master of writing about family dysfunction.  Second, he brings the culture of the South alive in a way that makes you able to smell the salt air and feel the oppressive humidity.  Those two things make him one of my favorite authors.  If he strays from those things, it becomes very hit or miss.

“South of Broad” is a miss.  The novel lacks focus and it takes away from the flow of the storyline.  It starts very strong with a bunch of high school youths in Charleston around the time of Integration.  This is Pat Conroy at his best; bringing to life the expectations and contradictions of the American South and all of the myriad characters that reside therein.  If he had kept on this path, this could have been a great novel.  Unfortunately, he then decided to fast-forward all the kids to adulthood and a bizarre rescue attempt of one of the friends dying of AIDS in San Francisco and being held prisoner by a man who is stealing his welfare checks. He then rewinds again to childhood and good ole Southern Football only to fast-forward once again to adulthood and the aftermath of said San Francisco rescue attempt.

I don’t understand his reasoning in doing this bouncing through time thing.  The novel would have felt more complete if he had just gone chronologically.  We are introduced to characters in adulthood that then appear later as minor characters from youth.  Maybe he thought this would be impactful to the story.  It ended up really detracting from it, though.

The funny thing is, while reading the book, I couldn’t get it out of my head that this would make a terrific HBO series.  There were so many things to explore in the novel that Pat left unexplored.  This is praise, not criticism.  Novels have a story to tell and they should stick to that story, but the unexplored depth of a novel is what really brings the imagination to life and this novel does have that depth.