Sunday, September 13, 2009

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Category: Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 528 pages
On Sale: August 11, 2009
Price: $29.95
ISBN: 978-0-385-41305-3 (0-385-41305-X)

The publishing event of the season: The one and only Pat Conroy returns, with a big, sprawling novel that is at once a love letter to Charleston and to lifelong friendship.
Against the sumptuous 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 well-known Joyce scholar. After Leo's older brother commits suicide at the age of thirteen, 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. The ties among them endure for years, surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, and Charleston's dark legacy of racism and class divisions. But the final test of friendship that brings them to San Francisco is something no one is prepared for. South of Broad is Pat Conroy at his finest; a long-awaited work from a great American writer whose passion for life and language knows no bounds.

This was the first Pat Conroy novel I have read... it will not be the last. I am already looking for his other books and can only hope that they are as good as this one. I received this book as an ARC (thank you so much Doubleday) and started it on a Friday evening only to become so engrossed that I found myself stealing moments all weekend to read about these characters.
We have all had the "high school" experience and I am sure that we all have different recollections of our time and memories of those finest years in our lives. Lets just say for myself... high school years were not the most memorable. But... on to the reason we are here ...

The main characters of this book are a group of teenagers either thrown together or attracted to each other for all those reasons we bond with others. First there is the narrator, Leopold "Leo" Bloom King, nicknamed the Toad. We have the supporting cast of characters the beautiful Sheba and Trevor Poe except their lives are not as beautiful, the downtrodden orphan twins Niles and Starla with more baggage then two people should carry; the "silver spoon in their mouths" Molly and her boyfriend, Chadworth Rutledge X; Chad's sister Fraser, the younger sister in a family where the men rule and Ike, the football coaches son and Betty, another feisty orphan from the St. Jude Orphanage, who are the first African American students to attend the high school in the midst of the 60's racial tension.

We have teenage angst, rebellion, bravery. We have parents steering, guiding or driving the teenagers on their way to becoming the adults they will become good or bad. We have the lives of all these teens as well as their families intertwined over years of struggles, hopes, dreams, abandonment and finally death. We have a group of the most unlikely characters coming together at an age and a time in history where they are able to step out side their comfort zones and become life time friends forming bonds for all the right reasons.

I found this book to be the most wonderful book I have read in a while...Pat Conroy started us on this little story of Leo and his gang and then he added some twists, turns, bends and bumps that just caught me off guard. With a lot of books I have read, I am already forming the endings in my mind, the bad guys, seeing what's beyond the next chapter... this man got me... I did not see the ending coming at all... I was impressed by the way he wrote this book and kept me thinking right up to the last pages.

I came away thinking about the way fate plays such a part in all of our lives and the way our lives are linked to others along the course of one's life. Another question is.. is it nurture or nature, can nurture come from a group other than a family unit and can we change the nature of ourselves to become something other than what we have learned from parental guidance or what society wants us to be.

I have always kept in the back of my mind something my mother told me... words of wisdom... We only know what we have been taught and how we have been brought up as children; so, we have to learn and bring up the next generation differently. Now, in all honesty, I can not say my mother was a perfect parent; but, she was wise enough to tell me this and aware of her own limitations to allow me to aknowledge that I can try to do better with my own children.

Oh, I hope I have done that with my own children.... my children are great people in spite of me... and I can only thank all of the other's in their lives that have helped me.

I would highly recommend this book... it brought me to tears, it raised my hackles concerning injustices of society, it made me question fate and if some people are just doomed even after over coming great odds.

Now, for the really good part....

I would love to share this with YOU... so here's the deal

First and foremost ... leave a comment .... any comment ... let me know your thoughts....

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Post about my giveaway and add me to your favorites (ok, maybe, I won't be your number #1 favorite; but, list me in the top thousand, at least)

I don't want to confuse you (or really it's me that would be confused) by giving points for each of the above... so it's one entry for any or all and please tell your friends about this giveaway. I would love to share this book with you.

Contest is open from today, September 13th through September 26th.

USA only for now. Thanks.