South of Broad

( 737 )

Overview

Against the backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina, South of Broad gathers a unique cast of sinners and saints. Leopold Bloom King, our narrator, is the son of an amiable, loving father who teaches science at the local high school. His mother, an ex-nun, is the high school principal and a respected Joyce scholar. After Leo's older brother commits suicide at the age of ten, the family struggles with the shattering effects of his death, and Leo, lonely and isolated, searches for something to sustain him. ...

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Overview

Against the backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina, South of Broad gathers a unique cast of sinners and saints. Leopold Bloom King, our narrator, is the son of an amiable, loving father who teaches science at the local high school. His mother, an ex-nun, is the high school principal and a respected Joyce scholar. After Leo's older brother commits suicide at the age of ten, the family struggles with the shattering effects of his death, and Leo, lonely and isolated, searches for something to sustain him. Eventually, he finds his answer when he becomes part of a tightly knit group of high school seniors that includes friends Sheba and Trevor Poe, glamorous twins with an alcoholic mother and a prison-escapee father; hardscrabble mountain runaways Niles and Starla Whitehead; socialite Molly Huger and her boyfriend, Chadworth Rutledge X - and an ever-widening circle whose liaisons will ripple across two decades, from 1960s counterculture through the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

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Editorial Reviews

Chris Bohjalian
South of Broad is a big sweeping novel of friendship and marriage—and, perhaps, vintage Pat Conroy…Conroy is an immensely gifted stylist, and there are passages in the novel that are lush and beautiful and precise. No one can describe a tide or a sunset with his lyricism and exactitude. My sense is that the millions of readers who cherish Conroy's work won't be at all disappointed—and nor will anyone who owns stock in Kleenex.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Charleston, S.C., gossip columnist Leopold Bloom King narrates a paean to his hometown and friends in Conroy's first novel in 14 years. In the late '60s and after his brother commits suicide, then 18-year-old Leo befriends a cross-section of the city's inhabitants: scions of Charleston aristocracy; Appalachian orphans; a black football coach's son; and an astonishingly beautiful pair of twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe, who are evading their psychotic father. The story alternates between 1969, the glorious year Leo's coterie stormed Charleston's social, sexual and racial barricades, and 1989, when Sheba, now a movie star, enlists them to find her missing gay brother in AIDS-ravaged San Francisco. Too often the not-so-witty repartee and the narrator's awed voice (he is very fond of superlatives) overwhelm the stories surrounding the group's love affairs and their struggles to protect one another from dangerous pasts. Some characters are tragically lost to the riptides of love and obsession, while others emerge from the frothy waters of sentimentality and nostalgia as exhausted as most readers are likely to be. Fans of Conroy's florid prose and earnest melodramas are in for a treat. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
"Kids, I'm teaching you to tell a story. It's the most important lesson you'll ever learn," says the protagonist of Conroy's first novel in 14 years (since 1995's Beach Music). Switching between the 1960s and the 1980s, the narrative follows a group of friends whose relationship began in Charleston, SC. The narrator is Leopold Bloom King (his mother was a Joyce scholar), a likable but troubled kid who goes from having one best friend, his brother, to having no friends after a tragedy, to having, suddenly, a gang, of which he is perhaps not the leader but certainly the glue. Conroy continues to demonstrate his skill at presenting the beauty and the ugliness of the South, holding both up for inspection and, at times, admiration. He has not lost his touch for writing stories that are impossible to put down; the fast pace and shifting settings grip the reader even as the story occasionally veers toward the unbelievable. VERDICT Filled with the lyrical, funny, poignant language that is Conroy's birthright, this is a work Conroy fans will love. Libraries should buy multiple copies.—Amy Watts, Univ. of Georgia Lib., Athens
Kirkus Reviews
First novel in 14 years from the gifted spinner of Southern tales (Beach Music, 1995, etc.)-a tail-wagging shaggy dog at turns mock-epic and gothic, beautifully written throughout. The title refers, meaningfully, to a section of Charleston, S.C., and, as with so many Southern tales, one great story begets another and another. This one starts most promisingly: "Nothing happens by accident." Indeed. The Greeks knew that, and so does young Leopold Bloom King. It is on Bloomsday (June 16) 1969 that 18-year-old Leo learns his mother had once been a nun. Along the way, new neighbors appear, drugs make their way into the idyllic landscape and two new orphans turn up "behind the cathedral on Broad Street." The combination of all these disparate elements bears the unmistakable makings of a spirit-shaping saga. The year 1969 is a heady one, of course, with the Summer of Love still fresh in memory, but Altamont on the way and Vietnam all around. Working a paper route along the banks of the Ashley River and discovering the poetry of place ("a freshwater river let mankind drink and be refreshed, but a saltwater river let it return to first things"), Leo gets himself in a heap of trouble, commemorated years later by the tsk-tsking of the locals. But he also finds out something about how things work ("Went out with a lot of women when I was young," says one Nestor; "I could take the assholes, but the heartbreakers could afflict some real damage.") and who makes them work right-or not. Leo's classic coming-of-age tale sports, in the bargain, a king-hell hurricane. Conroy is a natural at weaving great skeins of narrative, and this one will prove a great pleasure to his many fans.
From the Publisher
Praise for South of Broad

"Conroy is an immensely gifted stylist…. No one can describe a tide or a sunset with his lyricism and exactitude."—Chris Bohjalian, The Washington Post

"Conroy writes with a momentum that's impossible to resist."—People, 3 of 4 stars.
"Beautifully written throughout…. Conroy is a natural at weaving great skeins of narrative, and this one will prove a great pleasure to his many fans."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Conroy is a master of American fiction and he has proved it once again in this magnificent love letter to his beloved Charleston, and to friendships that will stand the test of time."—Bookpage
Praise for Beach Music

"Astonishing . . . stunning . . . the range of passions and subjects that brings life to every page is almost endless." —Washington Post Book World

"Blockbuster writing at its best." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Pat Conroy's writing contains a virtue now rare in most contemporary fiction: passion." —Denver Post

"Reading Pat Conroy is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel." —Houston Chronicle

"Incandescent." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Grand." —Boston Globe

"Lyrical . . . evocative . . . Beach Music is one from the heart, and it beats with a vibrancy that cannot be denied." —Hartford Courant

"Breathtaking . . . perhaps the most eagerly awaited book of the year . . . a knockout." —Charlotte Observer

"Beach Music attains an almost ethereal beauty." —Miami Herald

"Few novelists write as well, and none as beautifully . . . Conroy's narrative is so fluid and poetic that it's apt to seduce you into reading just one more page, just one more chapter." —Lexington Herald-Leader

"Compelling storytelling . . . a page-turner . . . Conroy takes aim at our darkest emotions, lets the arrow fly, and hits a bull's-eye almost every time." —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Barnes & Noble Review
It's been 14 years between novels for Pat Conroy, a son of the South whose love of his native landscape is matched only by his obsession with the grim strength of family ties. Much of that darkness rises from experiences in his own life. He mined his explosive relationship with his father, a severe and controlling ex-Marine, for his debut novel, The Great Santini. He followed up with The Lords of Discipline, which scandalized his alma mater, The Citadel, with its unflattering portrayal. With The Prince of Tides, a bestselling novel turned A-list movie with Barbra Streisand, he cemented his spot in popular culture.

Conroy's back on familiar turf with South of Broad, which, depending on the eye of the beholder, is either a sprawling saga brimful of characters and emotion and sense of place, or a period melodrama with a pretty travelogue thrown in.

Litmus test:

"I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like a hinged shell of some soft-tissued mollusk. My soul is peninsula-shaped and sun-hardened and river-swollen. The high tides of the city flood my consciousness every day, subject to the whims and harmonies of full moons rising out of the Atlantic."

That's Leopold Bloom King, the narrator of South of Broad, named for the hero of James Joyce's Ulysses. Leo's a sweet, messed-up kid who, at 18 years old, already has a felony drug bust and a stint in a mental ward on his résumé. We meet him on June 16th, known to Joyceans as Bloomsday, the 24-hour span during which the author's famously impregnable novel takes place. The year is 1969, a tipping point for the civil rights movement and the coming countercultural revolution. Both will rock Leo's staid and stately hometown of Charleston.

Leo's troubles began a decade before, the day he discovered the dead body of his charismatic ten-year old brother, Steve, a bloody suicide. The shock all but destroyed the King family. Leo's mother, a high school principal and a perfectionist, retreated into a frosty reserve. His father, a science teacher, struggled to fill the resulting gap. Leo himself went into a prolonged freefall. As we meet him on this Bloomsday, the lonely boy with the outlandish name is about to break free of the string of shrinks and probation officers who have marked his adolescence.

"Because I was a timid boy, I grew fearful and knew deep in my heart the world was out to get me," Leo tells us in the first chapter. "Before the summer of my senior year, the real life I was always meant to lead lay coiled and ready to spring in the hot Charleston days that followed."

That real life is set in motion as Leo reaches out, all in a single day, to an oddball collection of kids. There's Niles and Starla, a pair of runaways who, when Leo meets them, are dressed in bright orange jumpsuits and handcuffed to their chairs at St. Jude's Orphanage. Next, Leo bakes cookies to welcome the mysterious and seductive twins Trevor and Sheba Poe, who move in across the street. And at lunch at the country club Leo is recruited to help Chad, Fraser, and (Joyce alert!) Molly, society kids caught using drugs, learn the ropes at their new school. Add in a phone call from a nun, which reveals to Leo a stunning secret about his parents' marriage, and it's been almost as eventful a day as Leopold and Stephen's.

All this makes for fast start and a dense read. Just three weeks later, as we're still sorting out who's who and what's what, Conroy shunts the whole gang 20 years into the future. It's 1989, and Leo's now a gossip columnist for Charleston's local newspaper. The ragtag group he assembled has become the core social force in his life. Bonds have formed. Marriages have taken place. Children have been born. When Trevor, one of the glamorous Poe twins, goes missing in his adopted city of San Francisco, the whole gang heads off to California to save him.

The scope of the story blows wide open, and Conroy dives into the themes and characters that, from book to book to book, have a hold -- or stranglehold -- on him. There's physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, racism and class warfare, stalking and rape and murder, and, in the revelations about Steve's suicide, some very dark and rather familiar ground.

There's also, amid a hefty bit of overwriting, some truly lovely stuff. Here Leo, the southern boy, nails California in two short sentences:

"The West is both a great thirst and a dry, weatherless curiosity. In California, the mad, deep breath of deserts is never far away."

It's Conroy's trademark prose, cinematic and sensitive. It makes you wish he'd stop swinging for the fences all the time, stop loading every last clause of nearly every sentence with so much stuff.

In the end, though, when the drama has played out and the spectacle skids to a stop, when Leo and his friends return to their lives in Charleston, South of Broad turns out to be about love and acceptance, understanding, and that thing Conroy seems to seek most of all, forgiveness. --Veronique de Turenne

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles?based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385413053
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/11/2009
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 800,601
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

PAT CONROY is the bestselling author of The Water Is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, and My Losing Season. He lives in South Carolina.

Biography

Pat Conroy was born on October 26, 1945, in Atlanta, Georgia, to a young career military officer from Chicago and a Southern beauty from Alabama, whom Pat often credits for his love of language. He was the first of seven children.

His father was a violent and abusive man, a man whose biggest mistake, Conroy once said, was allowing a novelist to grow up in his home, a novelist "who remembered every single violent act... my father's violence is the central fact of my art and my life." Since the family had to move many times to different military bases around the South, Pat changed schools frequently, finally attending the Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, upon his father's insistence. While still a student, he wrote and then published his first book, The Boo, a tribute to a beloved teacher.

After graduation, Conroy taught English in Beaufort, where he met and married a young woman with two children, a widow of the Vietnam War. He then accepted a job teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, a remote island off the South Carolina shore. After a year, Pat was fired for his unconventional teaching practices -- such as his unwillingness to allow corporal punishment of his students -- and for his general lack of respect for the school's administration. Conroy evened the score when he exposed the racism and appalling conditions his students endured with the publication of The Water is Wide in 1972. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was made into the feature film Conrack, starring Jon Voight.

Following the birth of a daughter, the Conroys moved to Atlanta, where Pat wrote his novel, The Great Santini, published in 1976. This autobiographical work, later made into a powerful film starring Robert Duvall, explored the conflicts of his childhood, particularly his confusion over his love and loyalty to an abusive and often dangerous father.

The publication of a book that so painfully exposed his family's secret brought Conroy to a period of tremendous personal desolation. This crisis resulted not only in his divorce but the divorce of his parents; his mother presented a copy of The Great Santini to the judge as "evidence" in divorce proceedings against his father.

The Citadel became the subject of his next novel, The Lords of Discipline, published in 1980. The novel exposed the school's harsh military discipline, racism and sexism. This book, too, was made into a feature film.

Pat remarried and moved from Atlanta to Rome where he began The Prince of Tides which, when published in 1986, became his most successful book. Reviewers immediately acknowledged Conroy as a master storyteller and a poetic and gifted prose stylist. This novel has become one of the most beloved novels of modern time—with over five million copies in print, it has earned Conroy an international reputation. The Prince of Tides was made into a highly successful feature film directed by Barbra Streisand, who also starred in the film opposite Nick Nolte, whose brilliant performance won him an Oscar nomination.

Beach Music (1995), Conroy's sixth book, was the story of Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife's suicidal leap off a bridge in South Carolina. The story took place in South Carolina and Rome, and also reached back in time to the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. This book, too, was a tremendous international bestseller.

While on tour for Beach Music, members of Conroy's Citadel basketball team began appearing, one by one, at his book signings around the country. When his then-wife served him divorce papers while he was still on the road, Conroy realized that his team members had come back into his life just when he needed them most. And so he began reconstructing his senior year, his last year as an athlete, and the 21 basketball games that changed his life. The result of these recollections, along with flashbacks of his childhood and insights into his early aspirations as a writer, is My Losing Season, Conroy's seventh book and his first work of nonfiction since The Water is Wide.

He currently lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina with his wife, the novelist Cassandra King.

Author biography courtesy of Pat Conroy's official web site.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Donald Patrick Conroy (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      San Francisco and South Carolina
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 26, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Atlanta, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.A.,The Citadel, 1967

Read an Excerpt

Prologue
The Mansion on the River

It was my father who called the city the Mansion on the River.
He was talking about Charleston, South Carolina, and he was a native son, peacock proud of a town so pretty it makes your eyes ache with pleasure just to walk down its spellbinding, narrow streets. Charleston was my father's ministry, his hobbyhorse, his quiet obsession, and the great love of his life. His bloodstream lit up my own with a passion for the city that I've never lost nor ever will. I'm Charleston-born, and bred. The city's two rivers, the Ashley and the Cooper, have flooded and shaped all the days of my life on this storied peninsula.
I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like the hinged shell of some soft-tissued mollusk. My soul is peninsula-shaped and sun-hardened and river-swollen. The high tides of the city flood my consciousness each day, subject to the whims and harmonies of full moons rising out of the Atlantic. I grow calm when I see the ranks of palmetto trees pulling guard duty on the banks of Colonial Lake or hear the bells of St. Michael's calling cadence in the cicada-filled trees along Meeting Street. Deep in my bones, I knew early that I was one of those incorrigible creatures known as Charlestonians. It comes to me as a surprising form of knowledge that my time in the city is more vocation than gift; it is my destiny, not my choice. I consider it a high privilege to be a native of one of the loveliest American cities, not a high-kicking, glossy, or lipsticked city, not a city with bells on its fingers or brightly painted toenails, but a ruffled, low-slung city, understated and tolerant of nothing mismade or ostentatious. Though Charleston feels a seersuckered, tuxedoed view of itself, it approves of restraint far more than vainglory.
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 happiness as the lamb is 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.
Because of its devotional, graceful attraction to food and gardens and architecture, Charleston stands for all the principles that make living well both a civic virtue and a standard. It is a rapturous, defining place to grow up. Everything I reveal to you now will be Charleston-shaped and Charleston-governed, and sometimes even Charleston-ruined. But it is my fault and not the city's that it came close to destroying me. Not everyone responds to beauty in the same way. Though Charleston can do much, it can't always improve on the strangeness of human behavior. But Charleston has a high tolerance for eccentricity and bemusement. There is a tastefulness in its gentility that comes from the knowledge that Charleston is a permanent dimple in the understated skyline, while the rest of us are only visitors.
My father was an immensely gifted science teacher who could make the beach at Sullivan's Island seem like a laboratory created for his own pleasures and devices. He could pick up a starfish, or describe the last excruciating moments of an oyster's life on a flat a hundred yards from where we stood. He made Christmas ornaments out of the braceletlike egg casings of whelks. In my mother's gardens he would show me where the ladybug disguised her eggs beneath the leaves of basil and arugula. In the Congaree Swamp, he discovered a new species of salamander that was named in his honor. There was no butterfly that drifted into our life he could not identify by sight. At night, he would take my brother, Steve, and I out into the boat to the middle of Charleston Harbor and make us memorize the constellations. He treated the stars as though they were love songs written to him by God. With such reverence he would point out Canis Major, the hound of Orion, the Hunter; or Cygnus, the Swan; or Andromeda, the Chained Lady; or Cassiopeia, the Lady in the Chair. My father turned the heavens into a fresh puzzlement of stars: “Ah, look at Jupiter tonight. And red Mars. And isn't Venus fresh on her throne?” A stargazer of the first order, he squealed with pleasure on the moonless nights when the stars winked at him in some mysterious, soul- stirring graffiti of ballet-footed light. He would clap his hands with irresistible joy on a cloudless night when he made every star in the sky a silver dollar in his pocket.
He was more North Star than father. His curiosity about the earth ennobled his every waking moment. His earth was billion-footed, with unseen worlds in every drop of water and every seedling and every blade of grass. The earth was so generous. It was this same earth that he prayed to because it was his synonym for God.
My mother is also a Charlestonian, but her personality strikes far darker harmonies than my father's did. She is God-haunted and pious in a city with enough church spires to have earned the name of the Holy City. She is a scholar of prodigious gifts, who once wrote a critique of Richard Ellman's biography of James Joyce for the New York Review of Books. For most of my life she was a high school principal, and her house felt something like the hallway of a well-run school. Among her students, she could run a fine line between fear and respect. There was not much horseplay or lollygagging about in one of Dr. Lindsay King's schools. I knew kids who were afraid of me just because she was my mother. She almost never wears makeup other than lipstick. Besides her wedding band, the only jewelry she owns is the string of pearls my father bought her for their honeymoon.
Singularly, without artifice or guile, my mother's world seemed disconsolate and tragic before she really knew how tragic life could be. Once she learned that no life could avoid the consequences of tragedy, she soft¬ened into an ascetic's acknowledgment of the illusory nature of life. She became a true believer in the rude awakening.
My older brother, Steve, was her favorite by far, but that seemed only natural to everyone, including me. Steve was blond and athletic and charismatic, and had a natural way about him that appealed to the higher instincts of adults. He could make my mother howl with laughter by telling her a story of one of his teachers or about something he had read in a book; I could not have made my mother smile if I had exchanged arm farts with the Pope in the Sistine Chapel. Because I hero-worshipped Steve, it never occurred to me to be jealous of him. He was both solicitous and protective of me; my natural shyness brought out an instinctive championing of me. The world of children terrified me, and I found it perilous as soon as I was exposed to it. Steve cleared a path for me until he died.
Now, looking back, I think the family suffered a collective nervous breakdown after we buried Steve. His sudden, inexplicable death sent me reeling into a downward spiral that would take me many years to fi ght my way out of and then back into the light. My bashfulness turned to morbidity. My alarm systems all froze up inside me. I went directly from a fearful childhood to a hopeless one without skipping a beat. It was not just the wordless awfulness of losing a brother that unmoored me but the realization that I had never bothered to make any other friends, rather had satisfied myself by being absorbed into that wisecracking circle of girls and boys who found my brother so delicious that his tagalong brother was at least acceptable. After Steve's death, that circle abandoned me before the flowers at his graveside had withered. Like Steve, they were bright and flashy children, and I always felt something like a toadstool placed outside the watch fires of their mysteries and attractions.
So I began the Great Drift when Steve left my family forever. I found myself thoroughly unable to fulfill my enhanced duties as an only child. I could not take a step without incurring my mother's helpless wrath over my raw un-Stephenness, her contempt for my not being blond and acrobatic and a Charleston boy to watch. It never occurred to me that my mother could hold against me my unfitness to transfer myself into the child she had relished and lost. For years, I sank into the unclear depths of myself, and learned with some surprise that their haunted explorations would both thrill and alarm me for the rest of my life. A measurable touch of madness was enough to send my fragile boyhood down the river, and it took some hard labor to get things right again. I could always feel a flinty, unconquerable spirit staring out of the mangroves and the impenetrable rain forests inside me, a spirit who waited with a mineral patience for that day I was to claim myself back because of my own fi erce need of survival. In the worst of times, there was something that lived in isolation and commitment that would come at my bidding and stand beside me, shoulder-to-shoulder, when I decided to face the world on my own terms.
I turned out to be a late bloomer, which I long regretted. My parents suffered needlessly because it took me so long to find my way to a place at their table. But I sighted the early signs of my recovery long before they did. My mother had given up on me at such an early age that a comeback was something she no longer even prayed for in her wildest dreams. Yet in my anonymous and underachieving high school career, I laid the foundation for a strong finish without my mother noticing that I was, at last, up to some good. I had built an impregnable castle of solitude for myself and then set out to bring that castle down, no matter how serious the collateral damage or who might get hurt.
I was eighteen years old and did not have a friend my own age. There wasn't a boy in Charleston who would think about inviting me to a party or to come out to spend the weekend at his family's beach house.
I planned for all that to change. I had decided to become the most interesting boy to ever grow up in Charleston, and I revealed this secret to my parents.
Outside my house in the languid summer air of my eighteenth year, I climbed the magnolia tree nearest to the Ashley River with the agility that constant practice had granted me. From its highest branches, I surveyed my city as it lay simmering in the hot-blooded saps of June while the sun began to set, reddening the vest of cirrus clouds that had gathered along the western horizon. In the other direction, I saw the city of rooftops and columns and gables that was my native land. What I had just promised my parents, I wanted very much for them and for myself. Yet I also wanted it for Charleston. I desired to turn myself into a worthy townsman of such a many-storied city.
Charleston has its own heartbeat and fingerprint, its own mug shots and photo ops and police lineups. It is a city of contrivance, of blueprints; devotion to pattern that is like a bent knee to the nature of beauty itself. I could feel my destiny forming in the leaves high above the city. Like Charleston, I had my alleyways that were dead ends and led to nowhere, but mansions were forming like jewels in my bloodstream. Looking down, I studied the layout of my city, the one that had taught me all the lures of attractiveness, yet made me suspicious of the showy or the makeshift. I turned to the stars and was about to make a bad throw of the dice and try to predict the future, but stopped myself in time.
A boy stopped in time, in a city of amber-colored life that possessed the glamour forbidden to a lesser angel.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Foreword

1. At the beginning of the novel, Leo is called on to mitigate the racial prejudice of the football team. What other types of prejudice appear in the novel? Which characters are guilty of relying on preconceived notions? Why do you think Leo is so accepting of most people? Why is his mother so condemnatory?

2. What do you think of the title South of Broad? How does the setting inform the novel? Would the novel be very different if it were set in another city or region?

3. As a teenager, Leo is heavily penalized for refusing to name the boy who placed drugs in his pocket. Why did he feel compelled to protect the boy's identity? Do you think he did the right thing?

4. When Leo's mother asks him to meet his new peers, she warns, “Help them, but do not make friends with them.” Do you think such a thing possible? Through the novel, how does Leo help his friends, and how do they help him?

5. Leo's mother tells him, “We're afraid the orphans and the Poe kids will use you,” to which he responds, “I don't mind being needed. I don't even mind being used.” Do you think this is a healthy attitude toward friendship? Do any of the characters end up “using” Leo? Does his outlook on friendship changed by the end of the novel?

6. Leo admits that the years after Steven's suicide nearly killed him. How was he able to cope? How do Leo's parents deal with their grief? What does the novel say about human resilience and our propensity to overcome tragedy?

7. When Sheba suggests to Leo that he divorce his wife, he says, “I knew there were problems when I married Starla so I didn't walk into that marriageblind.” Do you think that knowledge obligates Leo to stay with his wife? In your opinion, does Leo do the right thing by staying married? Would you do the same?

8. Both Chad and Leo are unfaithful to their wives, but only Leo is truthful about it. Do you think this makes Chad's infidelity a worse offense? Why or why not?

9. At two points in the novel, the group tries to rescue a friend: first Niles, then Trevor. But when Starla is in trouble, they don't attempt to save her. Why do you think this is? Has Starla become a “lost cause”?

10. At one point Leo remarks, “I had trouble with the whole concept [of love] because I never fully learned the art of loving myself.” How does the concept of self-love play into the novel?

11. In the moment before Leo attacks Trevor's captor, he recites a portion of “Horatio at the Bridge,” a poem about taking a lone stand against fearful odds. What is the significance of the verse? Do you think it's appropriate to that moment?

12. The twins are the novel's most abused characters and also the most creative. Do you think there is a connection between suffering and art?

13. What do you make of the smiley face symbol that Sheba and Trevor's father paints? How does the novel address the idea of happiness coexisting with pain?

14. At several points in the novel, characters divulge family secrets. Do you believe that this information should stay secret, or is there value in bringing it to light?

15. Leo examines his Catholicism at several points in the novel. What do you think he might say are the advantages and drawbacks of his religion? Do you think all religions are fraught with those problems?

16. One might interpret Leo's mother's attitude toward religion as one of blind faith. If Steven had admitted his abuse to her, do you think she would she have believed him? How do you think the information might have affected her?

17. Sheba and Trevor are literally tormented by their childhoods, in the form of their deranged father. How are some of the other characters hindered by the past? Are they ever able to escape its clutches and, if so, by what means?

18. Discuss the scene in which Leo and Molly rescue the porpoise. What does the event symbolize?

19. Why do you think the discoveries about Leo's mother and Monsignor Max begin and end the novel? What theme do these incidents convey?

20. Chapter one begins with the statement, “Nothing happens by accident,” and Leo often reflects on the way that destiny has shaped his life. How does destiny affect the other characters? Do you agree that real life is the result of predetermined forces? Or can we affect our fate?

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. At the beginning of the novel, Leo is called on to mitigate the racial prejudice of the football team. What other types of prejudice appear in the novel? Which characters are guilty of relying on preconceived notions? Why do you think Leo is so accepting of most people? Why is his mother so condemnatory?

2. What do you think of the title South of Broad? How does the setting inform the novel? Would the novel be very different if it were set in another city or region?

3. As a teenager, Leo is heavily penalized for refusing to name the boy who placed drugs in his pocket. Why did he feel compelled to protect the boy's identity? Do you think he did the right thing?

4. When Leo's mother asks him to meet his new peers, she warns, “Help them, but do not make friends with them.” Do you think such a thing possible? Through the novel, how does Leo help his friends, and how do they help him?

5. Leo's mother tells him, “We're afraid the orphans and the Poe kids will use you,” to which he responds, “I don't mind being needed. I don't even mind being used.” Do you think this is a healthy attitude toward friendship? Do any of the characters end up “using” Leo? Does his outlook on friendship changed by the end of the novel?

6. Leo admits that the years after Steven's suicide nearly killed him. How was he able to cope? How do Leo's parents deal with their grief? What does the novel say about human resilience and our propensity to overcome tragedy?

7. When Sheba suggests to Leo that he divorce his wife, he says, “I knew there were problems when I married Starla so I didn't walk into that marriage blind.” Do you think that knowledge obligates Leo to stay with his wife? In your opinion, does Leo do the right thing by staying married? Would you do the same?

8. Both Chad and Leo are unfaithful to their wives, but only Leo is truthful about it. Do you think this makes Chad's infidelity a worse offense? Why or why not?

9. At two points in the novel, the group tries to rescue a friend: first Niles, then Trevor. But when Starla is in trouble, they don't attempt to save her. Why do you think this is? Has Starla become a “lost cause”?

10. At one point Leo remarks, “I had trouble with the whole concept [of love] because I never fully learned the art of loving myself.” How does the concept of self-love play into the novel?

11. In the moment before Leo attacks Trevor's captor, he recites a portion of “Horatio at the Bridge,” a poem about taking a lone stand against fearful odds. What is the significance of the verse? Do you think it's appropriate to that moment?

12. The twins are the novel's most abused characters and also the most creative. Do you think there is a connection between suffering and art?

13. What do you make of the smiley face symbol that Sheba and Trevor's father paints? How does the novel address the idea of happiness coexisting with pain?

14. At several points in the novel, characters divulge family secrets. Do you believe that this information should stay secret, or is there value in bringing it to light?

15. Leo examines his Catholicism at several points in the novel. What do you think he might say are the advantages and drawbacks of his religion? Do you think all religions are fraught with those problems?

16. One might interpret Leo's mother's attitude toward religion as one of blind faith. If Steven had admitted his abuse to her, do you think she would she have believed him? How do you think the information might have affected her?

17. Sheba and Trevor are literally tormented by their childhoods, in the form of their deranged father. How are some of the other characters hindered by the past? Are they ever able to escape its clutches and, if so, by what means?

18. Discuss the scene in which Leo and Molly rescue the porpoise. What does the event symbolize?

19. Why do you think the discoveries about Leo's mother and Monsignor Max begin and end the novel? What theme do these incidents convey?

20. Chapter one begins with the statement, “Nothing happens by accident,” and Leo often reflects on the way that destiny has shaped his life. How does destiny affect the other characters? Do you agree that real life is the result of predetermined forces? Or can we affect our fate?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 737 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(281)

4 Star

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2 Star

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(67)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 742 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Best of the best; conroy's most realized work

    SOUTH OF BROAD is set in contemporary Charleston, and follows the life of Leo King and his handful of best friends through the latter half of the last century, roughly the late sixties till the ninties. Like all Conroy novels, this one is full of drama, action and breath-taking prose - no other living southern writer compares. It is shorter and faster moving than Prince of Tides or Beach Music, and offers a realistic portrayal of American Catholicism rare in recent literature, all clothed in typical smart-ass Conroy humor.

    23 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A must read!

    I picked the book up on Friday and had a hard time putting it down! The characters, Charleston, friendships all of it was so wonderfully written. The characters were so well detailed right down to emotions that I found myself falling in love with them. It was especially heartbreaking reading about the flooding. Jamestown, Silvercreek are was flooded here in NY and that made it all the more real. I loved the characters and how their lives intertwined through the years and came back full circle. I have loaned it to a friend and raved about it to anyone who would listen. I plan to read it a second time.

    17 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Tumultuous Highs and Lows

    This will probably be one of my hardest reviews to write for the simple fact that nothing I write can do this novel justice. Every emotion possible was covered in this book, and for me felt deeply: heartbreak, love, second chances, anguish, loss, sympathy, agony, joy, lust, anger, pride and hurt. I know I'm particularly susceptible to feeling as if I'm there in many of the novels I read but I think I can say with certainty that this was one of the most evocative pieces of work I've ever read and I now understand the editor's note in the front of the advanced copy sent to me. This is the first novel Mr. Conroy has published in 14 years and I can see why so many were anxiously awaiting his next. Never having read his work before, I'm loathe to do so if this doesn't exceed hopes and expectations piled upon each other for this successor to his previous novels.
    Initially I was intimidated by the florid prose in this very long novel (512 pages). By page 12, I was ready to set it to the side. By page 20, I was sucked in and couldn't put the book down. Not for the sake of being redundant, but the story within the pages tapped into my emotional reserve, and I cried, laughed, gasped, shuddered, and smiled at many, many points within the pages. Nothing of the story was predictable, beyond the expectation of some overwhelming incident lying in wait. In that, South of Broad didn't disappoint. Nor in anything else actually. The tales within the plot tied up seamlessly, even one that was an integral part of the story but not expected to be given a resolution or understanding, and my heart broke for several characters many times over. The ending left me a little drained, and hoping the best for the characters within the book, and not a little disappointment that this which has kept me compelled all weekend has drawn to a close. I fell a little bit in love with the protagonist of the story and would love to see from his perspective again someday. This is truly a must read and one of the most compelling stories I've ever read.

    17 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Great Gift to the South

    I read this new Conroy novel and must say that it is simply beautiful from the first line. The story, set in the late sixties till the nineties, mostly in Charleston, is centered on the life of Leo King. Born into a devout Catholic family, Leo is haunted by his brother's suicide, and trying to salvage a ruined adolescence with the help of a handful of best friends, who have their own histories and ghosts to deal with. Conroy often writes of salvation through friendship,
    and this is his strongest novel yet on the subject.

    It is also an unexpectedly Catholic novel, and at base, a very devout one. The South, and the Low Country in particular, are exalted, beloved, and cherished in prose so fine it breaks your heart. I don't want to spoil the story in any way, but have to say that the last pages did that thing that modern novels seem incapable of doing these days: it lifted my heart, ending on just the loveliest, most affirming word (won't say what.)

    I Love Yous Are for White People is the only other book that has touched me this deeply this year. I recommend reading both wholeheartedly.

    15 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2009

    ???

    OK, maybe I just don't "get it", but I'm trying very hard to keep reading this book. I'm maybe a quarter of the way through it and I just cannot get into it. It's not pulling me in at all. The characters seem totally unbelievable to me. What kids who were teens in the late 60's actually talked and acted that way? I'm trying to finish this book because of the other really great reviews, but I have to force myself to pick it up.

    13 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2009

    All over the place

    I've read all of Pat Conroy's books, except for The Boo; I love Pat Conroy's books. I certainly don't hold my breath waiting for his next book to come out, because there have been many years between the last three books. I was delighted to hear that a new book was being released this summer and I bought it immediately. However, I cannot say I enjoyed the book. The story line was implausible to me and I felt it was all over the place and not at all cohesive. Some of the story lines were just too convenient and not at all believable. Many questions were left unanswered.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 19, 2010

    Setting over Substance

    I've been a fan of Pat Conroy for a very long time. For me, South of Broad failed to deliver on Conroy's ability to tell a great story or generate a quest to keep my nose buried in the book until I was finished. Using Charleston as the setting for the story seemed to be a simple choice for Conroy, since it's the setting for his own life's story. But this "Big Chill" type of narrative was hollow and a bit too cutesy for me. Each of the main characters spoke with the same snippy, sarcastic, and too clever dialogue to be believable. Each time the old friends were all in the same room, you could anticipate the bantering, with no real differentiation between them. There was nothing extraordinary in terms of suspense or anticipation, except that I kept wondering when I'd get through the book. Pretty weak from a writer that's offered much over the years.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2010

    Way Off Course

    Pat Conroy's prose is as lush as ever, but the sad and tired caricatures of Southern gentry and rednecks who populate this book are a disservice to Conroy and the city he obviously loves so much. Even the twin horrors of child molestation and pedophilia lose any possible value as a plot device, becoming both diminished and predictable when inflicted upon nearly every major character. Where was the editor?

    Do yourself a favor -- skip the disturbing melodrama taking place South of Broad and just re-read The Prince of Tides.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Novel Goes South

    This is one of the worst books I have ever read. I loved "Prince of Tides", but my headline says it all - Conroy's writing style has gone south. The writing is dreadful, cliched and in tone - for lack of a better word - just plain icky. His portrait of the one gay character is so unoriginal and cardboard, if I didn't know better, I'd have thought he was writing a parody. And parts of the book are downright stupid. After a major hurricane, workers miraculosly appear 3 days after to repair the homes of the narrators' friends. I can tell you from experience with Hurricane Wilma that not even divine intersession could accomplish repairs 3 days after an event of that nature.

    Quite frankly, I cannot figure out why so many reviewers gave this book 3 and 4 stars, but evidently they do no know what good literature is.

    6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2009

    so sad

    Pat Conroy has been my favorite all-time author for many years. No one waited for another novel with as much anticipation than I! Then I got the book and was very disappointed. very. the characters were card-boardy, stilted dialog.. dumb book. If it had been any other author, I would have stopped reading after 20 pages. nothing could be as disappointing to me except finding out that there is no Santa Claus.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2009

    It's just not good, sorry

    I pre-ordered this book months ago...counted the days til it was released...jumped for joy when it arrived...and page after page I kept wondering...when is this going to get good. It never did and I couldn't even finish it.

    I could give you all details why, but I don't even want to go there. These other glowing reviews I've read on this website must be friends and family because trust me...it's not good, not even close.

    6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    In this book Pat Conroy writes with a crow bar-----

    Turning over every rock to expose every unthinkable human corruption and vice. What a nasty man. I read Prince of Tides years ago, and I cannot remember it being offensive. Do people really talk this way? If so, no wonder I have a feeling of uneasiness around homosexuals. If heterosexuals used every conversation to insert salacious comments about their sexual activities they would well deserve a little shunning. I finished the book though, so it must have held my interest. Bad on me.

    5 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2010

    Conroy missed the boat on this one.

    I've enjoyed Mr. Conroy's previous books, but this one is too long and tedious and the characters are unbelievable; they never seem to get out of their high school stage. It's like a bad B movie of the 40s or 50s, and the lead character, in this case Leo, says - Let's put on a show. Am also very tired of Conroy putting his excruciating childhood into every book. Move on. Get over it.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Recommend only for die-hard fans

    South of Broad centers around Leo King, otherwise known as "Toad' by his friends and enemies alike. Part of the book is set when "Toad" is in his late teens, and he's had a rough life. A family tragedy has caused a huge rift in his family, and caused him to have a mental breakdown. The summer before his senior year of high school he makes an eccentric group of friends, and these friends will be close to him into adult hood. These friends bring their own sets of troubles and problems.

    I was so excited to get my hands on an ARC of this book. I loved both The Prince of Tides and Beach Music; and was thrilled to see that Conroy had written another novel. Unfortunately, I found this book very disappointing. I'm not sure if it's just that my tastes have changed in the years since he's last published a novel, or if this book truly isn't that good. Don't get be wrong, I did love a few things about it. Some of the writing is beautiful, especially when he describes Charleston and South Carolina. Wonderful imagery of the ocean, tides, beaches. But the plot is so predictable and cliched. You can seen any "secrets" coming way before they are revealed, including the big secret at the end which was probably just about the biggest cliche in the whole book. Then there's the dialogue, which is melodramatic and "cutesy" to the point of being unbelievable (who talks that way in real life??). And the do-gooder main character, who is probably the most unrealistic teen age boy I've ever read about. Also, some of the characters are so stereotypical they are almost laughable: the flamboyant gay, the so-awful-and-insane-it's-cartoonish bad guy, and the token black couple with their "ghetto" speak. Plus, there were a few scenes that were so ridiculous they are laughable. For instance, a scene where adults in their 30s reinact a high school pep ralley, complete with cheers. Vomit inducing.

    All in all, I'm glad I read the book since I'm sure many will love it and it will be greatly hyped. But, for those who fell in love with his earlier books, it may end being a disappointment like it was for me.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    I'm devestated !!

    I ordered this book before it came out... my husband had a two week fishing trip planned and I was extremely busy with a class reunion... when this book came I placed it in a prominent place and anticipated the time when he was gone, the reunion was over and I could just immerse myself in it... it is one of the worse books I've ever read !!! The characters are not fully formed, there is no plot... I'm on page 150 and am giving up !! I rarely don't finish a book but this one is almost making me gag as well as my being so disappointed by Conroy's writing... Beach Music is one of my all time favorite books of fiction and I loved the Prince of Tides as well. I've read all Mr. Conroy's books.. What has happened in the 16(?) years since his last book to make this author lose his ability to mesmerize his audience? Reading the other reviews I began to doubt my take on this book so I tried again.... I just don't understand what these people see in this... "Charleston has its own heartbeat and fingerprint, it's own mug shots and photo ops and police lineups. It is a city of contrivance, of blueprints; devotion to pattern that is like a bent knee to the nature of beauty itself. I could feel my destiny forming in the the leaves high about the city" ?????? What the hell does THAT mean? I love words but this is ridiculous!! I guess some authors just run out of steam and, like movie stars, cannot let it rest...
    I've never written a review before but I am so disappointed I just had to "vent"..

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2009

    South of Broad hits bottom

    I was all excited when I heard Pat Conroy had a new book out after having read all of his previous hits. Well, this one didn't make it with me at all although I kept pushing myself to get through it. However, right about the middle I gave it up completely and gave it to a neighbor to see what she thought. What a waste of paper and ink!

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2009

    Disappointed

    I loved Mr. Conroy's other books. This one didn't live up to the others. I read 300+ pages and I can't finish it. I kept waiting for it to pull me in, but it never happened. Others may like it, but it was disappointing and I kept waiting for it to end, which unfortunately it didn't.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2010

    Disappointed

    I was dissapointed in this book. It was not what I expected after reading several other of Pat Conroy's books. All of which I have loved. It was a heavy read and I felt unrealistic. For this group of unlikely high school friends to remain close through adulthood was rediculous. I actually threw the book away when I finished it.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    More crazies than the pan can handle

    Very well written. Suspenseful and sometimes touching. Conroy has conjured up the most disturbed people imaginable and put them all in one school district. I found the plot just too far fetched and the characters over the top. I finished it but don't think I am healthier for the experience.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

    Pat Conroy does not disappoint.

    The characters, the intensity of the story and the lavish description of the beautiful city creates a memorable read from the opening sentence. Pat Conroy has the ability to transport the reader to a place which not only captivates the mind but fills the heart with the passion that the characters share throughout their lives as friends. A very grown up book that connects people on a very special level, at a special time, in a special place.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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