I’m seriously experiencing a bad case of Post-Book Depression- you know, that feeling of sadness when you finish an amazing book- after reading the last page of “South of Broad”. This novel is about 500 pages, and I read it in a week, stealing every chance I got to read a few pages. Even my brother noted how absorbed I was- upon finding me curled up on the couch while everyone else was gathered around the table, he casually calls as if on an intercom “Nerd, party of one? Nerd, party on one. ” (Thanks bro.)
I’m still in the process of moving (don’t ask, it’s a long story) but last week I asked a friend (Shout out to Sydney!) if she’d bring a book from her collection to work so I’d have something to read in my spare time. She had told me “South of Broad” had been sitting on her bookshelf, forgotten, for a long time. Her friend had highly recommended it, but after the first few pages, she had lost interest and didn’t pick it up again. So she brought it in for me to check out, and I’d agree that her first impression wasn’t wrong- the prologue is very descriptive and slightly boring- but once I got into the first chapter, I got that feeling that I was reading something very special.
Now, the hard part about describing this novel is that there is so much detail and character development that I know I won’t be able to summarize it with justice. But for the sake of helping set the mood, I’ll put it this way: Think of this novel as a cross between “Gone With the Wind” and “The Outsiders”. Set in the city of Charleston, SC, the story bounces (with easy readability for no confusion) from the past to the present in five parts. Part One, the reader is introduced to the main character, Leo, his family, and his dark childhood, and we are lightly introduced to his soon-to-be core of friends. Part Two, we flash forward 20 years, and we learn about present day Leo and his relationships with his close friends, and to what lengths they all go to for their friendships. Part Three, the action gets fast paced and thrilling (and I’ll leave it at that). Part Four, is a flashback to Leo in his senior year of high school, and we learn about how the core group of friends developed their friendship. Part Five is literally and figuratively how Leo weathers the storm that has changed his life.
Not only did Conroy write a very convincing and detailed story, but he manages to make the characters so witty and conversational. I couldn’t help but want to be friends with all of them, and kept reflecting on the wonderful friendships that I have made over the years, but particularly those of my core high school friends. These characters are a mismatch group of misfits that came together to share a deep sense of family- a bond of trust and respect despite class, bloodlines, and ghosts in the past. Their commentary and fast wit had me laughing along with them, and along side that, their fears and sadness had me held in suspense and empathy. There are so many scenes, so many running jokes that I can’t possibly (even though I tried) quote to recreate what Conroy has delicately woven into his story.
I’ve returned Sydney’s copy of the novel to her, and she’s already reading it. But I urge anyone and everyone to pick this one up off the shelf. I will be buying a copy of this book for my shelves, so that I may go back to Charleston with Leo and his friends once more.