Monday, May 20, 2024

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

South of Broad by Pat Conroy is a beautifully written novel set in Charleston, SC and includes richly drawn characters and great writing about place, with Conroy from the South and drawing from his experiences.

The book features the characters of Leo King, three sets of siblings in Sheba and Trevor Poe, Chad and Fraser Rutledge, and Niles and Starla Whitehead, Betty, Ike Jefferson, and Molly Huger. South of Broad (which is a part of Charleston) begins prior to their senior year of high school in 1969 and each person came to the friendship with their own unique hurdles to overcome. Sheba and Trevor had an evil father, Niles, Starla, and Betty were orphans, Chad and Fraser were blue bloods with the expectations of Charleston society, Ike was a young black man in the South, and Leo had to deal with the suicide of his older brother, Steve.

Sheba and Trevor moved across the street from Leo, and Leo and Ike were co-captains of the football team, with Ike's father the new head coach in a often-racist town. Sheba and Trevor were memorable characters, with each like glamorous comets shooting through the world. Trevor was flamboyantly gay and a bringer together of people and Sheba the center of attention, and they lived with their alcoholic mother, who had taken them and fled from their perfectly evil father. Leo had a domineering mother, and tremendously decent father and was a remarkable character, someone who tried to do what was right, becoming the glue of the group. 

The book jumps forward twenty years in time, with Sheba coming back to Charleston from Hollywood, where she had become a goddess-like movie star. During the intervening years, Leo married Starla, Niles married Fraser, Ike married Betty, and Chad married Molly. Sheba enlisted the group to go with her to San Francisco in search of Trevor. They then return to Charleston, and Hurricane Hugo comes into their lives. There's so many fork in the road moments for the characters, where the arc of their lives could have gone a different direction had different choices been made or outcomes occurred. There's also quite a bit of painful to read heartbreak in the book, and the bond between the group is remarkable with how they rally around each other.