South of Broad by Pat Conroy

South of Broad

I picked up this book while on vacation at the beach in South Carolina. It seemed like an appropriate read, given that it’s about a twenty-year period in the lives of a group of mostly well-heeled Charlestonians. The book’s strength is in its evocations of the beauty of the city — the architecture, the rivers, the skies, the history. Conroy captures a certain time and place with great specificity.

The book lost me, however, along the way. The characters were paper-thin, the dialogue was usually ludicrous, and many of the portrayals of women, black people, and gay people were cringe-inducing in their reliance on stereotypes and lack of humanity. The book leaned hard into melodrama, almost to the point of camp, so that a seemingly innocent story about paper routes and first kisses could climax with acts of terror and decadent violence. What kind of book is this?

And yet I read every page. By the time I reached the final chapters I was frustrated with the book and contemptuous of the characters, yet I also wanted to see how it all ended. Score one for Conroy’s plotting skills — he kept me reading, even as I told myself I didn’t like the book at all.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Recommended with reservations

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