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Thursday, March 11, 2010

South of Broad by Pat Conroy, 2009, * *

Charleston, S.C., Gossip columnist Leopold Bloom King narrates a paean to his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. In the late '60s and after his brother commits suicide, then 18-year-old Leo befriends a cross-section of the city's inhabitants: scions of Charleston aristocracy; Appalachian orphans; a black football coach's son; and an astonishingly beautiful pair of twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe, who are evading their psychotic father. The story alternates between 1969, the glorious year Leo's coterie stormed Charleston's social, sexual and racial barricades, and 1989, when Sheba, now a movie star, enlists them to find her missing gay brother in AIDS-ravaged San Francisco. Too often the not-so-witty repartee and the narrator's awed voice (he is very fond of superlatives) overwhelm the stories surrounding the group's love affairs and their struggles to protect one another from dangerous pasts. Also, given the incredibly ugly episodes among some of the characters in their teenage years, it is not plausible that as adults they were regularly socializing and calling each other "friends." There are also so many “high drama” episodes that the book began to seem like the plot of a soap opera as opposed to a story that one could imagine as true. I was looking forward to Conroy’s first novel in 14 years, and although mesmerized by the main character, I was not overly impressed.

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