Oh Pat Conroy, you’ve done it again. This is why you are my favorite author. Please move to New York and tell me stories every day.
In his latest novel, Conroy once again gives the Lowcountry a dreamlike quality. You can feel the breeze blowing through the Spanish moss as you read. South of Broad is set in Charleston, SC and begins as 9 friends enter their senior year of high school. The group is not one that would come together naturally as they are separated by class and upbringing; but after being thrown together, they are inseparable.
Our narrator, Leo, found his brother dead from suicide at age ten. The ordeal tore him apart and he is just now getting his life together after spending time in a mental hospital and on probation for drug possession. He has never had a friend before but that changes when his mother sends him on a string of errands one summer day that leads him to his lifelong friends. The Whiteheads, backwoods orphans, are desperate for positive attention. Next up are the Poe twins, who have a flair for the dramatic. Leo then meets Ike, the first boy to integrate his school and football team. Finally, he meets the Rutlage/Huger clan, members of Charleston’s aristocracy. Bonds are formed and suddenly we speed forward several decades where the group has come together to find Trevor Poe, who is dying of AIDS. Their link to each other is as tight as it was in high school – so much so that you don’t even feel the need to know what happened in the years between high school and now.
Class distinction and AIDS affected the entire country, but racism and Hurricane Hugo (which I distinctly remember as a 4 year old, sleeping in the stairwell) feel a tad more Southern. Conroy uses these events as landmarks, reminding us what life was like then so we can better understand how far we have come.
4.5 out of 5 stars