Author: Pat Conroy
No. of Pages: 512
First Released: August 11, 2009
Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “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.”
Comments and Critiques: I’ll admit it; I’ve never watched or read The Prince of Tides. I didn’t know who Pat Conroy was when I received this ARC from Doubleday. The book sounded interesting, so I requested a copy. I didn’t know what to expect, and therefore, I probably have a different opinion than someone who is a huge fan of his work.
Since I didn’t know what to expect, what I found was simply amazing. I completely fell in love with Mr. Conroy’s descriptions of Charleston. It brought the city to life for me in a way that one visit there in the heat of summer was not able to do. The city itself is as much of a main character in the story as Leo, Sheba, Trevor, Molly and the other cast of characters, if not THE main character. His descriptions are lush and poetic. I really want to go back for another visit now to be able to see Charleston’s charms in a completely new light.
I was a bit disappointed with some of the characters. I felt that they were either too harsh or I didn’t quite understand their role in the circle of friends. They seemed to be the outsiders but still included in the inner circle for whatever reason. The fact that the story itself is about a group of friends, their successes and failures, loves and losses over the course of several decades definitely brings a The Big Chill vibe to the book. It’s like Friends without the coffee shop and if they weren’t quite as superficial and self-involved.
In addition, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that this was written with the intention of becoming a movie. Either it was written that way, or I kept feeling that this would translate easily to the big screen. Some of the plot contrivances were a bit too…contrived. I had moments where I rolled my eyes and others where I was completely shocked. Throughout, I still felt that I was reading a screen play.
To me, in spite of the drama, suspense, mystery, and heartache, this book is about love. Love for self, love for family, love for friends, love for duty, but most importantly, love for a city and an entire culture. It wasn’t the relationships that kept me reading each night until the wee hours of the morning. It was Leo’s (and Mr. Conroy’s) obvious love of the Lowcountry Charleston, SC that kept pulling me back. I’ve never read a book where the backdrop kept me riveted before, but there is always a first for everything.
There is a lot to like about this book and quite a bit more to love. We should all be so lucky to form such tight bonds with a group of friends as Leo does with his. To know that they would drop everything to help you out is a tremendously powerful group. But it’s Charleston that really shines through, even with it’s reluctance to integrate and stubborn ties to a culture that by all rights no longer exists in the rest of the country. For that’s what makes Charleston the special place it is today.
I would and have begun to highly recommend this for others as one last beach read for the summer. I may even have to give his other works a try based on my reaction to this one. Thank you to Doubleday and Nan Talese for the opportunity to review this ARC!