South of Broad was, at the time of its launch in August 2009, one of the most controversial novels Pat Conroy ever wrote. Reviewers everywhere were split on its literary value but Kirkus Reviews managed to make sense of the many parallel running plots:
“First novel in 14 years from the gifted spinner of Southern tales (Beach Music, 1995, etc.)—a tail-wagging shaggy dog at turns mock-epic and gothic, beautifully written throughout. The title refers, meaningfully, to a section of Charleston, S.C., and, as with so many Southern tales, one great story begets another and another. This one starts most promisingly: “Nothing happens by accident.””
And then Booklist tops it all: “Conroy fleshes out the almost impossibly dramatic details of each of the friends’ lives in this vast, intricate story, and he reveals truths about love, lust, classism, racism, religion, and what it means to be shaped by a particular place, be it Charleston, South Carolina, or anywhere else in the U.S. The combination of all these disparate elements bears the unmistakable makings of a spirit-shaping saga.”
I remember the umpteen messages I handled at the time but there was news from the publisher who made us jump up and down. Here is a response when I asked about number of copies sold ‘so far’ : South of Broad hit all possible best seller list and is selling at a pass never seen “this side of Tom Clancy” so to speak. Therefore it’s going back to press, it already has for a few tens of thousands more copies.
As we “speak” South of Broad is slated for #1 on New York Times best seller list of August 30th 2009 and pretty much on every other important list in the US. Quite thrilling for us Pat Conroy fans.
On Amazon the reviews were running wild with some verbal fist-fights between readers breaking out daily: the novels supporters on one side, and its detractors on the other side… Here is a review on South of Broad at that time:
South of Broad
The Pat Conroy Fan Test!
November 15, 2009
So what’s a book review post on Amazon? That’s something I’ve asked myself time and again, knowing the question was basically rhetorical; the answer was within myself. Book reviewing is a lonely endeavor and this is my first attempt. I’ve been reading books since I was 10 years old, slipping my stealth light, a candle, under the bed in the middle of the night on hearing my mother in the hallway… until one night my bed caught on fire… (I lived in Europe and had a straw mattress.)
South of Broad was the first book I’d read by Pat Conroy, and once I finished it I was a bit overwhelmed. I had to go back and find out more about this writer. The best way, I thought, was through his books. Over a two-month period, I read them all, starting with Beach Music, and then working back to The Water Is Wide. What a revelation! When I finished I felt I understood Mr. Conroy so well, I knew all his strengths and pitfalls and desires and unfulfilled dreams.
He taught me that it was OK to wear your heart on your sleeve. I felt I had actually become his friend, or better said, he was my friend, and one I now knew so well.
But then it hit me. This is what he does to every one of his readers. What a special gift: to make us all his friends and his readers somehow friends with each other.
Passionate people never give up on making themselves heard and it is perhaps the main reason we write these opinions, which Amazon cleverly decided to name reviews.
The wide disparity of the “reviews” shows the broad emotional and cultural (so to say) make-up of the various contributors otherwise it’d be a nightmare to explain it. So to all of my fellow readers out there, who are ambivalent about reading South of Broad, I say just flip a coin or wait for the less expensive paperback to protect your “investment” (such a horror of a word in this context) but if you’re a lover of good storytelling do yourself a favor and don’t wait. You could soon be riding a roller coaster of emotions, as I did. This is fiction and you might disagree with elements of the plot and the narrative but it is ultimately Conroy’s creation.
Once inside South of Broad you’ll rise and fall with the tide of the English language at its very best.