South of Broad (Anglais) Relié – 11 août 2009
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The Mansion on the River
It was my father who called the city the Mansion on the River.
He was talking about Charleston, South Carolina, and he was a native son, peacock proud of a town so pretty it makes your eyes ache with pleasure just to walk down its spellbinding, narrow streets. Charleston was my father's ministry, his hobbyhorse, his quiet obsession, and the great love of his life. His bloodstream lit up my own with a passion for the city that I've never lost nor ever will. I'm Charleston-born, and bred. The city's two rivers, the Ashley and the Cooper, have ﬂooded and shaped all the days of my life on this storied peninsula.
I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like the hinged shell of some soft-tissued mollusk. My soul is peninsula-shaped and sun-hardened and river-swollen. The high tides of the city ﬂood my consciousness each day, subject to the whims and harmonies of full moons rising out of the Atlantic. I grow calm when I see the ranks of palmetto trees pulling guard duty on the banks of Colonial Lake or hear the bells of St. Michael's calling cadence in the cicada-ﬁlled trees along Meeting Street. Deep in my bones, I knew early that I was one of those incorrigible creatures known as Charlestonians. It comes to me as a surprising form of knowledge that my time in the city is more vocation than gift; it is my destiny, not my choice. I consider it a high privilege to be a native of one of the loveliest American cities, not a high-kicking, glossy, or lipsticked city, not a city with bells on its ﬁngers or brightly painted toenails, but a rufﬂed, low-slung city, understated and tolerant of nothing mismade or ostentatious. Though Charleston feels a seersuckered, tuxedoed view of itself, it approves of restraint far more than vainglory.
As a boy, in my own backyard I could catch a basket of blue crabs, a string of ﬂounder, a dozen redﬁsh, or a net full of white shrimp. All this I could do in a city enchanting enough to charm cobras out of baskets, one so corniced and ﬁligreed and elaborate that it leaves strangers awed and natives self-satisﬁed. In its shadows you can ﬁnd metalwork as delicate as lace and spiral staircases as elaborate as yachts. In the secrecy of its gardens you can discover jasmine and camellias and hundreds of other plants that look embroidered and stolen from the Garden of Eden for the sheer love of richness and the joy of stealing from the gods. In its kitchens, the stoves are lit up in happiness as the lamb is marinating in red wine sauce, vinaigrette is prepared for the salad, crabmeat is anointed with sherry, custards are baked in the oven, and buttermilk biscuits cool on the counter.
Because of its devotional, graceful attraction to food and gardens and architecture, Charleston stands for all the principles that make living well both a civic virtue and a standard. It is a rapturous, deﬁning place to grow up. Everything I reveal to you now will be Charleston-shaped and Charleston-governed, and sometimes even Charleston-ruined. But it is my fault and not the city's that it came close to destroying me. Not everyone responds to beauty in the same way. Though Charleston can do much, it can't always improve on the strangeness of human behavior. But Charleston has a high tolerance for eccentricity and bemusement. There is a tastefulness in its gentility that comes from the knowledge that Charleston is a permanent dimple in the understated skyline, while the rest of us are only visitors.
My father was an immensely gifted science teacher who could make the beach at Sullivan's Island seem like a laboratory created for his own pleasures and devices. He could pick up a starﬁsh, or describe the last excruciating moments of an oyster's life on a ﬂat a hundred yards from where we stood. He made Christmas ornaments out of the braceletlike egg casings of whelks. In my mother's gardens he would show me where the ladybug disguised her eggs beneath the leaves of basil and arugula. In the Congaree Swamp, he discovered a new species of salamander that was named in his honor. There was no butterﬂy that drifted into our life he could not identify by sight. At night, he would take my brother, Steve, and I out into the boat to the middle of Charleston Harbor and make us memorize the constellations. He treated the stars as though they were love songs written to him by God. With such reverence he would point out Canis Major, the hound of Orion, the Hunter; or Cygnus, the Swan; or Andromeda, the Chained Lady; or Cassiopeia, the Lady in the Chair. My father turned the heavens into a fresh puzzlement of stars: “Ah, look at Jupiter tonight. And red Mars. And isn't Venus fresh on her throne?” A stargazer of the ﬁrst order, he squealed with pleasure on the moonless nights when the stars winked at him in some mysterious, soul- stirring grafﬁti of ballet-footed light. He would clap his hands with irresistible joy on a cloudless night when he made every star in the sky a silver dollar in his pocket.
He was more North Star than father. His curiosity about the earth ennobled his every waking moment. His earth was billion-footed, with unseen worlds in every drop of water and every seedling and every blade of grass. The earth was so generous. It was this same earth that he prayed to because it was his synonym for God.
My mother is also a Charlestonian, but her personality strikes far darker harmonies than my father's did. She is God-haunted and pious in a city with enough church spires to have earned the name of the Holy City. She is a scholar of prodigious gifts, who once wrote a critique of Richard Ellman's biography of James Joyce for the New York Review of Books. For most of my life she was a high school principal, and her house felt something like the hallway of a well-run school. Among her students, she could run a ﬁne line between fear and respect. There was not much horseplay or lollygagging about in one of Dr. Lindsay King's schools. I knew kids who were afraid of me just because she was my mother. She almost never wears makeup other than lipstick. Besides her wedding band, the only jewelry she owns is the string of pearls my father bought her for their honeymoon.
Singularly, without artiﬁce or guile, my mother's world seemed disconsolate and tragic before she really knew how tragic life could be. Once she learned that no life could avoid the consequences of tragedy, she soft¬ened into an ascetic's acknowledgment of the illusory nature of life. She became a true believer in the rude awakening.
My older brother, Steve, was her favorite by far, but that seemed only natural to everyone, including me. Steve was blond and athletic and charismatic, and had a natural way about him that appealed to the higher instincts of adults. He could make my mother howl with laughter by telling her a story of one of his teachers or about something he had read in a book; I could not have made my mother smile if I had exchanged arm farts with the Pope in the Sistine Chapel. Because I hero-worshipped Steve, it never occurred to me to be jealous of him. He was both solicitous and protective of me; my natural shyness brought out an instinctive championing of me. The world of children terriﬁed me, and I found it perilous as soon as I was exposed to it. Steve cleared a path for me until he died.
Now, looking back, I think the family suffered a collective nervous breakdown after we buried Steve. His sudden, inexplicable death sent me reeling into a downward spiral that would take me many years to ﬁ ght my way out of and then back into the light. My bashfulness turned to morbidity. My alarm systems all froze up inside me. I went directly from a fearful childhood to a hopeless one without skipping a beat. It was not just the wordless awfulness of losing a brother that unmoored me but the realization that I had never bothered to make any other friends, rather had satisﬁed myself by being absorbed into that wisecracking circle of girls and boys who found my brother so delicious that his tagalong brother was at least acceptable. After Steve's death, that circle abandoned me before the ﬂowers at his graveside had withered. Like Steve, they were bright and ﬂashy children, and I always felt something like a toadstool placed outside the watch ﬁres of their mysteries and attractions.
So I began the Great Drift when Steve left my family forever. I found myself thoroughly unable to fulﬁll my enhanced duties as an only child. I could not take a step without incurring my mother's helpless wrath over my raw un-Stephenness, her contempt for my not being blond and acrobatic and a Charleston boy to watch. It never occurred to me that my mother could hold against me my unﬁtness to transfer myself into the child she had relished and lost. For years, I sank into the unclear depths of myself, and learned with some surprise that their haunted explorations would both thrill and alarm me for the rest of my life. A measurable touch of madness was enough to send my fragile boyhood down the river, and it took some hard labor to get things right again. I could always feel a ﬂinty, unconquerable spirit staring out of the mangroves and the impenetrable rain forests inside me, a spirit who waited with a mineral patience for that day I was to claim myself back because of my own ﬁ erce need of survival. In the worst of times, there was something that lived in isolation and commitment that would come at my bidding and stand beside me, shoulder-to-shoulder, when I decided to face the world on my own terms.
I turned out to be a late bloomer, which I long regretted. My parents suffered needlessly because it took me so long to ﬁnd my way to a place at their table. But I sighted the early signs of my recovery long before they did. My mother had given up on me at such an early age that a comeback was something she no longer even prayed for in her wildest dreams. Yet in my anonymous and undera...
Revue de presse
"Conroy is an immensely gifted stylist…. No one can describe a tide or a sunset with his lyricism and exactitude."—Chris Bohjalian, The Washington Post
"Conroy writes with a momentum that's impossible to resist."—People, 3 of 4 stars.
"Beautifully written throughout…. Conroy is a natural at weaving great skeins of narrative, and this one will prove a great pleasure to his many fans."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Conroy is a master of American fiction and he has proved it once again in this magnificent love letter to his beloved Charleston, and to friendships that will stand the test of time."—Bookpage
Praise for Beach Music
"Astonishing . . . stunning . . . the range of passions and subjects that brings life to every page is almost endless." —Washington Post Book World
"Blockbuster writing at its best." —Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Pat Conroy's writing contains a virtue now rare in most contemporary fiction: passion." —Denver Post
"Reading Pat Conroy is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel." —Houston Chronicle
"Incandescent." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Grand." —Boston Globe
"Lyrical . . . evocative . . . Beach Music is one from the heart, and it beats with a vibrancy that cannot be denied." —Hartford Courant
"Breathtaking . . . perhaps the most eagerly awaited book of the year . . . a knockout." —Charlotte Observer
"Beach Music attains an almost ethereal beauty." —Miami Herald
"Few novelists write as well, and none as beautifully . . . Conroy's narrative is so fluid and poetic that it's apt to seduce you into reading just one more page, just one more chapter." —Lexington Herald-Leader
"Compelling storytelling . . . a page-turner . . . Conroy takes aim at our darkest emotions, lets the arrow fly, and hits a bull's-eye almost every time." —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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I have read the Prince of Tides and Beach Music, both great and I could not wait to start Mr. Conroy's latest.
This is a masterpiece in my humble opinion and I wish I could give South of Broad more than five stars, so discerning it would be.
South is a novel that gets under your skin allowing you to remember your growing up days, partying non-stop and having long hang-outs and partaking in those things which young people generally go through before they find their place in the world and know what careers they want to pursue. Actually what they want from life period. The characters in South are diverse and have their own stories to tell.
We meet Sheba and Trevor Poe who are twins from a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic mother and a father you don't really want to know about. These beautiful twins are taken in by the compassionate King family.......the main characters of this book.
Molly Huger the socialite and Chadworth Rutledge have a love-hate relationship, and are from upscale families, but this does not stop them from being part of the circle of friends.
Niles and Starla Whitehead were poor children from the mountains who made their world amongst these folk.
Ike and Betty a black couple who appear as no nonsense people.Lire la suite ›
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About 30 pages into "South of Broad" I began to feel uncomfortable with the book, and with reviewing it. The dialogue seemed stilted, and did not ring true, particularly in light of the ages of the main characters at the beginning. This issue continued throughout the book and I finally marked a page in order to find it again when I was finished and ready to review the book. Here is the passage I marked as an example: "Tonight, Sheba Poe" Ike says, "you're coming clean. You're going to lay it all out for us. I don't mind dying for you. I really don't. But I'd sure as hell like to know why." The reader is asked to believe that a grown, married man with a wife and children would volunteer to help out a childhood friend, and risk his life in doing so, as long as the childhood friend tells him her entire story.
This passage is also indicative of another issue I had with the book - there are numerous high drama episodes in the lives of the friends. There are so many that the book began to seem, to me, like the plot of a soap opera as opposed to a story that I could imagine is true.
The relationships in the book really stretched credibility. Given the incredibly ugly episodes among some of the characters in their teenage years, it is not plausible that as adults they were regularly socializing and calling each other "friends."
I wanted very much to like this book but just can't. If you grew up in the south and want to read something that touches on the issues all of us experienced (the social divide between the older, established families in the community, most of them with great wealth, and the more ordinary citizens; race relations as the community was forced to change due to integration and long overdue social changes; religion; and homosexuality) then you will find much in the novel you can identify with.
I wish that Nan Talese had taken a firmer hand as editor and had Conroy rework the dialogue and tone down the drama. I am uncomfortable writing such a negative review of the work of an author I have long admired. If I hadn't received the book as part of the Vine program, and felt obligated to review it, I wouldn't have.
On that fateful Bloomsday, Leo is finally on the verge of getting his act together. And this kid is too good to be true. He's got no friends his own age, but Leo is genuinely kind-hearted and charms any adult willing to give him a chance. However, everything changes on that day. It's the day that larger-than-life twins Sheba and Trevor Poe move across the street. It is also the day that he meets Ike Jefferson, the son of his new African American football coach (thanks to desegregation). It is the day he meets teenage orphans Niles and Starla Whitehead, just arrived in town and handcuffed to their chairs. And, finally, it is the day he meets South of Broad bluebloods, Chad and Fraser Rutledge and the beautiful Molly Huger. It is, in short, an eventful day.
The non-linear novel is told in five parts. That first part establishes the rich Charleston setting, gives the necessary exposition, and cements the life-altering relationships of these high school friends. Part two is set 20 years later. It is 1989, and Sheba Poe has returned to Charleston as one of the biggest movie stars alive. She's a drama-queen of the highest order, but she hasn't forgotten her friends or her roots. As the group of friends reunites around Sheba's surprise visit, we see what's become of the teenagers we've just gotten to know. We learn just how incestuous the group is, and who ended up married to whom.
It was this section, more than any other, that reminded me powerfully of the film The Big Chill--right down to the South Carolina setting, the careers of some of the friends, and the many (many!) issues they are dealing with. Section three sees this close-knit group on a quest to San Francisco. One of their number, openly gay and rumored to be dying of AIDS, is missing. No one has heard from him in over a year. Part four returns us to 1969, and the friends' senior year of high school. It is here that we learn more of the events that led to the adult lives these people were leading 20 years later. And finally (and I do mean finally, as the book came in at over 500 pages), part five returns to 1989/1990 and the culmination of the all plots and dramas we've exhaustingly witnessed.
It is a truly STAGGERING list of discord. All the typical Conroy highlights are hit: daddy issues, mommy issues, male and female rape, suicide, southern living, mental illness, military education, team sports, adultery, relationships with coaches, family drama, and so much more. This sort of redundancy of themes can't help but make you wonder a bit about the author. Nonetheless, though revisiting a lot of territory, Conroy jumbles things up in new and interesting ways.
I had a mixed reaction to this book. I can (and will) criticize any number of aspects of this novel, but I can't deny that it was entertaining. It's compulsively readable, but in a trashy, guilty pleasure sort of way. I generally think better of Pat Conroy. Some of the language exhibits his renowned lyricism, but much of the dialogue is cringe-worthy. Each of the characters attempts to be more witty and glib than the next. Their dialogue is a non-stop stream of one-liners, innuendo, and casual racism. None of it rings true, and goes a long way towards making these characters, their actions, and the constant high-drama simply too much to believe. Most of the characters are extreme personalities (some of them downright repugnant), and I found it hard to believe that their bonds were as tight as was depicted. The entire San Francisco section found Conroy way out of his element, and while he convincingly narrated through the eyes of an outsider, the story he told lacked authenticity. Armisted Maupin he's not.
And I mentioned it before, but by the end of the book, the non-stop drama of these people's lives is exhausting. Family drama, relationship drama, racial drama, religious drama, deaths, suicides, crimes, affairs, addiction, mental illness, natural disasters, and not one psychopath--but two! Folks, it's a lot to take in. Mr. Conroy's stored up a lot of plot lines in the time he's been away from fiction, and apparently he decided to use them all.
I'm sure his fans will defend this novel. And it's already a best-seller, but this is far from his strongest work. Read if you're a die-hard fan, or just want a page-turner, but if you're expecting a lot more than that, I expect you'll be disappointed.
This is unfortunately a disaster of a novel - not much more than the lowest kind of southern-fried melodrama. It painfully makes clear that being a novelist isn't something you can put aside for years at a time, and hope your skills return to you at the same high level. The writer of "Lords" and "Prince" is nothing but a shadow here.
I'm not going to give plot points away. But...the tragic narrator (a Conroy set-piece, but never so contrived as here) is not sympathetic or relatable. The dialogue is stilted and expository, and the characters don't behave in a realistic fashion. The conversations he wrote that seemed so real in his other books, seem completely phony in "South," written to move the plot along, not to actually bring life to the characters.
There is of course a twist at the end, and it is aw-ful. It comes completely out of the blue, for no good reason, and I'm not even sure what reaction I as the reader was supposed to have. It's not a question of "getting it," because he hits the reader with a hammer. But an author can't throw a twist like this without some effective foreshadowing, which isn't there at all.
He has touched on race relations in all his previous books, but in this one it really descends to the level of the "magic Negro," where the black characters are all saintly and perfect, only existing to help the growth of the white characters.
A main character dies in a surprising - in a bad way - fashion. Again, with no set up and no point. The author owes the reader some reason to care about the things that are happening. Surprises are fine, but not without fitting into the premise of the story.
I could go on, and unfortunately on. It's not good. It's bad. Very bad. I'm terribly disappointed, not just for this book, but for the realization that Conroy's days of being a great novelist are behind him. This "let's wait 10 years between novels" just doesn't work. There aren't too many authors who can put their talents in cold storage and just expect them to reawaken. Conroy's editors did him a grave disservice. Maybe this could have been good, but it needed a lot more work.
Anyway...Conroy has a lot of loyal fans, including me. This isn't worth the money. Sorry.
Pat Conroy should sue. Someone has generated a novel featuring all of the familiar Conroy elements and fed them into a plot generating device and come up with a novel that has everything a Conroy novel has. Except for wit. Except for snappy dialog. Except for realistic relationships and except for three dimensional characters.
Here are the basics: suicide (2), murder (2), threats of murder, madness (almost everyone to one degree or another), mental hospitals, religious disputes, beautiful women, stereotypical gay behavior, enduring friendship, racism, brotherhood, rich, poor, good parents, bad parents, crazy parents, distant parents, understanding parents, cloying descriptions of Charleston, stereotypical put downs of all that is not Charleston, and more beautiful women and the awkward men who love them.
It was all there in Beach Music, Prince of Tides and Lords of Discipline. But it was done better and more convincingly and with much better dialog.
It could have used more astute editing as well. Do mentally deranged people take "psychotic drugs?" Probably not. It is hoped that they take anti-psychotic drugs, which would seem to be more purposeful, but that's just me.
I read this book [on Kindle] so you don't have to
As difficult as Leo's life may seem, it pales in comparison with that of the twins who move into the house across the street: an openly gay boy and a sister who eventually becomes a famous actress, both of whom are constantly moved from town to town by a psychopathic abusive father intent upon killing anyone who becomes close with his children, or the brother and sister from the town's orphanage, one of whom later marries Leo, only to have her life spiral down into the throes of her borderline personality disorder.
The story follows this group of friends through several decades of their lives during which times they must struggle with issues of discrimination based upon class, race, and sexual orientation. Naturally there couldn't be a Pat Conroy novel that did not touch upon high school sports or The Citadel, although not as much as in his previous books. A warning to the squeamish, however, is that it also includes mention of the sexual abuse of children, as was the case in "The Prince of Tides."
Although the stories may differ, anyone familiar with the famous wit of Pat Conroy's narration will not be disappointed to find more of the same in "South of Broad." I can think of no other writer better able to deliver such a devastating and/or humorous put-down to another person, whether as in this book, the victim is a racist, a blue-blood, a psychopathic killer, a nun, or a even a priest. I have also read few books in which an author's love of a particular city shone through more clearly than Conroy's love for Charleston in this novel.
Although I would not rank this book higher than "The Prince of Tides," I did enjoy it more than Conroy's last novel, "Beach Music." Although not as sprawling a work as "Beach Music," "South of Broad" was not a book that I found myself wanting to finish quickly and purposely read it over a couple of weeks. Now that I have finished it my only hope is that we will not have wait another fourteen years for Pat Conroy to grace us with his next novel.