Monday, August 24, 2009

South of Broad

A train wreck of a book. Following all the excitement that after 14 years there would be a new novel by Pat Conroy, it has turned into a big disappointment. The book sits this week at #1 on the NY Times bestseller list. Of course it does: we all rushed out to buy it in one form or another, hardcover or digital. At least I only wasted $9.99 buying it for the Kindle instead of hard cover.

I did not really enjoy this book but wanted to give it a chance, so read it through to the end. Not something I normally do with one as off-putting as this. Pat Conroy has written better. His characters, for the most part, are cliches and have no depth. He strains credulity when his teenage protagonist meets in one day the 7 people who will turn out to be his best friends for life. Everything about it seems contrived. He jumps from 1969 to 1989 and we never find out much of what happened in between or why all of these disparate people are even friends. Why do they adore each other so much? Their conversations are pseudo-brilliant repartee, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The only characters nicely filled out are the protagonist himself, his father and Harrington Canon, the antique dealer. Why are the others so flat?

Some examples of his florid prose:

"It is the drawing that freezes my cells in all the dread of memory and history, in the secret mythology that forms the grotesque substrata that lies at the center of this search that has just turned deadly."

"His words soothe me and I taste their sweetness as they flow over me like the mountain laurel honey the wild bees make in the mountains where Starla was born."

"Nor do I have any idea when she started loving me, but the knowledge that her love is available in a boundless source had presented itself to me. I can use it as a sword on a pillow or a hermitage; a warm bath, a butterfly garden, or a flow of molten lava."

Did no one edit this book? Am I the only one who thinks it is way overblown?


  1. I completely agree with your comments. As I've read through all the five star reviews on South of Broad, I've wondered what kind of books these people usually read. I cannot imagine thinking these are well developed characters or that the storyline is anything but overwrought and contrived. Not only did all these people meet on the same day, they all ended up marrying each other?! I don't know whether his editor thought that Conroy needed no editing or whether he would tolerate none, but she clearly did not do much work on this one. Don't even get me started on the grammatical errors!

  2. I was disappointed to read your review of Conroy's new book because I dearly loved his "The Prince of Tides" which is one of my favorite books. I don't know now if I want to read this new one. I purchased it in hard cover and my husband read it, saying it was not as good as he had expected. Sigh. . .