South of Broad by Pat Conroy ~ 2009

The life of Leopold Bloom King

Author: Pat Conroy
Publisher: Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc.
Published: August 11th 2009
Pages: 460
Edition language: English
Jacket illustrations and design: Wendell  Minor

4 Stars

Pat Conroy
The novel follows the life of Leopold Bloom King in Charleston, South Carolina. It ranges from his troubled childhood to his adult life with his close group of friends. An excellent read, though, some of the twists should have had a better crescendo to the event.

The narrator is Leopold Bloom King (known as Leo named after Leopold Bloom from James Joyce’s classic Ulysses.) and he introduces us to his family and his friends who meet on Bloomsday back in 1969.  He had a troubled childhood and an unexpected trauma with the suicide death of his older brother Steve. Leo has a loving father and strict mother and after Leo's father passes away, Leo's mother forms a lifelong companionship with a Catholic priest named Monsignor Max. 

In high school, Leo forms a bond with twins Sheba and Trevor Poe, an African American boy Ike Jefferson, Niles and Starla Whitehead who are a couple of runaway orphans (and Betty), Chad and his girlfriend Molly Huger, and Fraser Rutledge. A couple of kids who had got kicked out of their private schools. 

As the story moves along, Leo deals with his past and his friends have their own troubles. But it is this bond of friendship that keeps them together through all of the events of their lives. They go through events that I could see happening in any neighborhood across the South, or for that matter, anywhere in the United States. They tend to go to the high school football games, Leo's friends Sheba and Trevor have a psychotic Dad, and there's trouble in marriages. They do go through a series of troubles and successes and stay close as good friends do. 

The story covers twenty years of their lives and flips back and forth from the 1960's to the late 1980's through the Aids epidemic scare. Trevor is openly gay and possibly suffering from Aids and has gone missing. The friends make a trip to San Francisco for the search. After returning to South Carolina, there are more events in the characters lives that might want you to make sure a box of Kleenex is in arms reach. From lies, more suicide and murder, there is a strike of luck for Leo. Even a bit of "What goes around, comes around."

As the story nears its end Leo finds devastating news. He confronts the news and as a newspaper columnist, writes a detailed account before entering into a mental hospital. He has a series of dreams of his family's loss and of his friends encouraging him to keep living. He awakens and befriends a nurse, leaving the hospital with a look toward the future.

Some of the friends do marry one another and of course have their own issues to deal with, but this story is full of bonding and lifelong friendship and - that's what they do.

This novel has many themes and plot lines and Pat Conroy pictures friendship, marriage, success & failure, heartbreak, devastation of loss, and life's challenges in a very convincing read.

Here's where you can get your fingers on South of Broad:

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