“South Broad” by Pat Conroy

"South of Broad" by Pat Conroy is published by Dial Press ($16, softback).

In the tradition of outstanding Southern writers, Pat Conroy is a master storyteller and a magician with words. “South of Broad” was published in 2009, but I read what I want to, when I want to. Therefore, I have just finished this wonderful book and enjoyed all 512 pages of it. Well, actually I didn’t want it to end. It could have gone on and I would have kept right on reading it. That’s because Conroy makes the characters so real that we care about them and what happens to them. He left me wanting more and left several questions unanswered.

“South of Broad” is a big sweeping novel with a core of family, friendship, love, tragedy, tradition and change — and as we know, change isn’t always easily accepted. The setting is beautiful, tradition-bound Charleston, S.C. It might even be said that the city is not merely a backdrop but a character in the book. I’ve visited that Atlantic shore city only once, but I recall thinking of it as a clean New Orleans. The tourist areas are full of charm and history, minus the grime and sleaze of our beloved Crescent City.

With the protagonist Leopold Bloom King at the center, this novel spans two turbulent decades. It takes Leo and his disparate group of friends through all manner of upheavals, including the ravages of Hurricane Hugo, which renders this place of beauty a dirty, chaotic mess. Readers given to symbolism will have a field day connecting the drama of the storm with the drama and tragedy in the lives of these mostly-lovable characters. A despicable, horrible character who has resisted the long arm of the law for decades is brought down by this force of nature. On the other hand, a young dolphin washed ashore and stranded on Sullivan’s Island is rescued and returned to the ocean in the hurricane’s aftermath. That’s the stuff of book discussion groups.

It is the intention of Book Biz to call attention to books, fiction and non-fiction, and hopefully to inspire reading. That’s why we never spoil it by giving away too much of the plot with fiction or the meat of non-fiction. In that spirit, suffice it to say this book is what a good work of fiction should be; entertaining and well-written. Conroy has the gift of imagination and lyrical language.

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