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  New York Times Review

THE anguished and rhapsodic men who narrate Pat Conroy's novels may not be neighbors in the South Carolina Lowcountry, but they share the same psychic territory. In roiling confessions, in soaring prose, they tell of damaged families and desperate efforts to rescue their loved ones. When Tom Wingo of "The Prince of Tides" says, "My wound is geography," and Jack McCall of "Beach Music" declares that "no one walks out of his family without reprisals," they not only echo each other, they mirror aspects of their novels' plots. "Beach Music" was jolted into motion by a suicide, and so is Conroy's fifth novel, "South of Broad." Its narrator, Leo King, is a newspaper columnist who has fought his own demons on a mental ward. "Somehow," homely Leo says, recalling his family's reaction to the death of his "dazzling" older brother, Stephen, who slit his throat and wrists with a razor, "we managed to survive that day, but none of us ever experienced the deliverance of recovery. I realize you can walk away from anything but a wounded soul." With the Citadel, the Roman Catholic Church and "palm-haunted" Charleston as Conroy's familiar backdrops, "South of Broad" - named for the locale of historic houses and blueblood sensibilities near the Battery - sets out to probe the lives of Stephen and Leo's family and friends. The novel alternates between 1969, when a group of high-school seniors - black and white, straight and gay, Appalachian-poor and old-Charleston-rich - become linked through Leo, and 1989, when they meet up again, a plot device reminiscent of "The Big Chill," the popular 1983 ensemble film, also set in South Carolina. Leo tries to interweave his "deliverance of recovery" with portraits of these friends, including resilient Ike Jefferson, among the first black students to play football for Peninsula High, who later becomes the city's first black police chief; and the histrionic twins Trevor and Sheba Poe, derided by their alcoholic mother in early scenes as "a faggot and a harlot." Sheba returns two decades later as an Academy Award-winning actress, a sexy star who seems a throwback to an earlier era. There are gorgeous and heartbreaking scenes in "South of Broad" - Leo's tales of his James Joyce-loving mother's ' former life in a convent and his parents' strange romance; his recollection of a languid day spent floating, "tide-carried and tide-possessed," on an inner tube with the Poe twins; an account of his discovery, on a mission to San Francisco to find the gravely ill Trevor, of a young stranger who has succumbed to AIDS in a seedy hotel. But the mysteries of character - the revelation of how these teenagers are transformed into remarkable adults - remain just beyond Leo's grasp. The decades his old companions are offstage, from approximately ages 18 to 38, are pivotal. Although they share their histories through pages of colorful dialogue, the "reeflike accretions that build up friendships" are often obscured. By the time the novel is transformed into a thriller - "The city of palms . . . turns into a place of galvanic nightmare" - their concerns have come to feel tangential. The technique Conroy has used so successfully in earlier works - a lone storyteller urgently sifting and interpreting a chaotic world - becomes constricting here. Our view of Leo's friends is foreshortened by his obsession with "the great arching motion of my life." We often miss their own urgent need to heal, to press on. It's as if Leo, the newspaper columnist, has churned through this material too many times before, leaving it sapped of its vitality. Conroy remains a magician of the page. As a writer, he owns the South Carolina coast. But the descriptions of the tides and the palms, the confessions of love and loss, the memories "evergreen and verdant" set side by side with evocations of the "annoyed heart" have simply been done better by the author himself. 'Palm-haunted' Charleston is the familiar backdrop for Pat Conroy's new novel. Roy Hoffman, a staff writer for The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., is the author of a novel, "Chicken Dreaming Corn."

  Library Journal Review

"Kids, I'm teaching you to tell a story. It's the most important lesson you'll ever learn," says the protagonist of Conroy's first novel in 14 years (since 1995's Beach Music). Switching between the 1960s and the 1980s, the narrative follows a group of friends whose relationship began in Charleston, SC. The narrator is Leopold Bloom King (his mother was a Joyce scholar), a likable but troubled kid who goes from having one best friend, his brother, to having no friends after a tragedy, to having, suddenly, a gang, of which he is perhaps not the leader but certainly the glue. Conroy continues to demonstrate his skill at presenting the beauty and the ugliness of the South, holding both up for inspection and, at times, admiration. He has not lost his touch for writing stories that are impossible to put down; the fast pace and shifting settings grip the reader even as the story occasionally veers toward the unbelievable. Verdict Filled with the lyrical, funny, poignant language that is Conroy's birthright, this is a work Conroy fans will love. Libraries should buy multiple copies.-Amy Watts, Univ. of Georgia Lib., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

An unlikely group of Charlestonian teens forms a friendship in 1969, just as the certainties and verities of southern society are quaked by the social and political forces unleashed earlier in the decade. They come from all walks of life, from the privileged homes of the aristocracy, from an orphanage, from a broken home where an alcoholic mother and her twins live in fear of a murderous father, from the home of public high school's first black football coach, and from the home of the same school's principal. The group's fulcrum, Leopold Bloom King, second son of an ex-nun Joyce scholar, who is also the school's principal, and a science-teacher father, is just climbing out of childhood mental illness after having discovered his handsome, popular, athletic, scholarly older brother dead from suicide. Over the next two decades, these friends find success in journalism, the bar, law enforcement, music, and Hollywood. Echoing some themes from his earlier novels, 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.--Knoblauch, Mark Copyright 2009 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

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." Indeed. The Greeks knew that, and so does young Leopold Bloom King. It is on Bloomsday (June 16) 1969 that 18-year-old Leo learns his mother had once been a nun. Along the way, new neighbors appear, drugs make their way into the idyllic landscape and two new orphans turn up "behind the cathedral on Broad Street." The combination of all these disparate elements bears the unmistakable makings of a spirit-shaping saga. The year 1969 is a heady one, of course, with the Summer of Love still fresh in memory, but Altamont on the way and Vietnam all around. Working a paper route along the banks of the Ashley River and discovering the poetry of place ("a freshwater river let mankind drink and be refreshed, but a saltwater river let it return to first things"), Leo gets himself in a heap of trouble, commemorated years later by the tsk-tsking of the locals. But he also finds out something about how things work ("Went out with a lot of women when I was young," says one Nestor; "I could take the assholes, but the heartbreakers could afflict some real damage.") and who makes them work rightor not. Leo's classic coming-of-age tale sports, in the bargain, a king-hell hurricane. Conroy is a natural at weaving great skeins of narrative, and this one will prove a great pleasure to his many fans. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * "A big sweeping novel of friendship and marriage" ( The Washington Post ) by the celebrated author of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini <br> <br> Leopold Bloom King has been raised in a family shattered--and shadowed--by tragedy. Lonely and adrift, he searches for something to sustain him and finds it among a tightly knit group of outsiders. Surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, as well as Charleston, South Carolina's dark legacy of racism and class divisions, these friends will endure until a final test forces them to face something none of them are prepared for.<br> <br> Spanning two turbulent decades, South of Broad is Pat Conroy at his finest: a masterpiece from a great American writer whose passion for life and language knows no bounds.<br> <br> Praise for South of Broad <br> <br> "Vintage Pat Conroy . . . a big sweeping novel of friendship and marriage." -- The Washington Post <br> <br> "Conroy remains a magician of the page." -- The New York Times Book Review <br> <br> "Richly imagined . . . These characters are gallant in the grand old-fashioned sense, devoted to one another and to home. That siren song of place has never sounded so sweet." --New Orleans Times-Picayune <br> <br> "A lavish, no-holds-barred performance." -- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution <br> <br> "A lovely, often thrilling story." -- The Dallas Morning News <br> <br> "A pleasure to read . . . a must for Conroy's fans." --Associated Press
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