I’m drawn to books that have a strong sense of place – especially if it’s a place that I’ve recently visited (or am about to visit). So after my June visit to Charleston, I looked forward to the release of Pat Conroy’s latest, South of Broad.
Conroy has never been one of my favorite authors, although I liked The Lords of Discipline (which exposed life at the Citadel) and felt sorry for his thinly disguised childhood in The Great Santini. The Prince of Tides did little for me, although it did conjure a mystique about South Carolina’s Low Country that still intrigues me.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed South of Broad. Conroy knows Charleston inside and out, and he dissects the gradations of Charleston society with the precision of Tom Wolfe, while retaining lyricism and metaphor. While the plot – about a group of friends dealing with a old threat that has entered their circle – is a little far-fetched, the characters have some depth, and you want to keep reading about them.
One thing I didn’t like: the dialogue. Many of the conversations between the characters seem forced to the point of staginess, a problem I remember in Prince of Tides. I read the book while sitting on a long bus ride, and several times I put it down, thinking, “Oh, come on. Who talks like that?” Just as quickly, I’d pick it back up, eager to read another exposition on Charleston’s Four Corners of Law or description of the South Carolina humidity (Conroy makes this point clear: Charleston is hot. Steamy hot. As “hot as dog-paddling across a heated pool.” If you don’t like metaphors like this, you won’t like this book).
Overall, a good read for anyone interested in Southern Gothic.