Saturday, August 7, 2010

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Set in Charleston, South of Broad is one of those panoptic novels about a generation of family, friends, marriage, class distinction, prejudice, fortune, mental illness, the glory of sports, AIDS, murder, child abuse, marital infidelity, religion, long-held secrets, and just about everything else you can cram into a book, including a natural disaster (hurricane).  It would take a page of writing just to tell you the plot details, so I won’t. If you must know, check out another review, or read the book, which won’t be a waste of time.

Pat Conroy can sure spin a melodramatic tale though. And his writing is occasionally exquisite. Every now and then he’d pour out something that made me bang my head with my fist and say, “why-can’t-I-write-like-that!” But the problem was, it almost felt like he was in a good mood one day and decided to focus on writing beautifully. Then all the other days he just felt like developing characters. It didn’t read like a colorful and seamless tapestry of story woven through characters. His characters are absolutely the meat of this book, and juicy they were, but they also didn’t feel real. They were too perfect or too bad or too smart, simply designed to spice up the story.

Good writers tell stories. Exceptional writers make you think and feel. The only thing South of Broad made me think was, “Gaud, what next? A Mars invasion?” and “For christ sake, just tell us why Leo’s brother offed himself,” although the reason is pretty transparent from the very beginning. And feel, well South of Broad made me feel like I’d just had a meal at Luby’s Cafeteria – everything looked so yummy, but was mostly bland, except the coconut pie, which was excellent!

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