Book Review: South of Broad by Pat Conroy

South of BroadSouth of Broad by Pat Conroy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

{This review contains spoilers}

First some background: I discovered Pat Conroy many years ago when I was assigned to read The Lords of Discipline for summer reading in high school. I absolutely loved it and was completely moved by it. About three years later I read The Prince of Tides and enjoyed that as well, although not quite as much. Sometime around that period I read The Water is Wide, a different sort of book, but also deeply engrossing.

Since then, I’ve been hesitant to read more Pat Conroy. I thought I might be too old, or have read too many of his books, to still enjoy his over-the-top melodrama. But a couple weeks ago I was in the local bookstore and saw South of Broad, it just called to me somehow.

Well, either I am too old for Pat Conroy, or this book is way worse than the others. I was not impressed with it.

For a book that was primarily supposed to be about deep friendships, I felt like we didn’t get to know a lot of the characters very well, or understand why they were friends. I had no handle on who Molly was, other than “privileged white girl,” and don’t really feel or understand the attraction between her and Leo.

I also didn’t feel like I knew anything about Starla, Leo’s wife. She was a mountain orphan girl who Leo suddenly liked after her crooked eye was surgically straightened. They apparently got married and she apparently went crazy. Or maybe she was crazy all along. Who knows? I had no understanding of her character or their relationship. What was the initial attraction? What was their early marriage like? When and how did her mental illness become apparent? It felt like Pat Conroy just said to himself, “Let’s see, I guess I’ll have him marry … the cross-eyed girl. Sure. And because my main characters can never be happy, I’ll make her insane.”

Somewhere in the middle of the book, I actually thought to myself, “What is this book about, exactly?” It seemed like A Bunch of Stuff That Had No Point. I had no idea where it was going … or if, indeed, it was going anywhere.

Many many people have already said that the constant banter between the friends was ridiculous.

I feel like this book could have been much better if the character and situations had been reduced by about two-thirds. What exactly was the point of the suicide of the brother, to be suddenly explained in the last ten pages? Did the story really need that? Did we need interracial football teams and mountain orphans and murderous rapist fathers and … well, you get the point. If just a handful of these characters and situations had been in the story, they could have been much better developed.

What did I like? I enjoyed the love story of Leo’s parents, and I thought the description of the hurricane and its aftermath was gripping.

In a weird way, I’m glad to see other people strongly dislike this book. Otherwise I would have just assumed that I had horrible taste for books when I was younger.

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