Thursday, July 02, 2009

Pat Conroy Alert: South of Broad

book coverSouth of Broad is Pat Conroy's first novel since Beach Music was published 14 years ago.

Set in Charleston, South Carolina, South of Broad is the story of Leopold King, the son of a father who teaches high school science and a mother who is the school's principal. When his brother commits suicide at the age of 13, Leo finds solace in a tight-knit group of high school friends that remain close through their diverse and turbulent adulthoods. The novel spans the decades from the counterculture of the 1960s through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Pre-reserve your copy today.

South of Broad is Conroy's third novel that deals with the suicide of a character. In Conroy's The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, a sister attempts suicide and a wife succeeds at it. Pat's brother, Tom, killed himself at age 33, and a sister was hospitalized for mental illness.

All of Pat Conroy's books pull from his dysfunctional but interesting life, which makes for some good reads:

The Boo and The Lords of Discipline are both set at the Citadel, a military college in Charleston, South Carolina. Conroy was a student there in the '60s. The Lords of Discipline is a fictionalized account of the first black Citadel cadet, and touches upon the infamous hazing that takes place at the institution.

The Water is Wide
is an autobiographical look at Conroy's year as a teacher for the underprivileged children of Daufuskie Island, South Carolina—an island that isn't even connected by bridge to the mainland. The residents on the island are descendants of slaves, most of whom are illiterate. The children's education has been so neglected that they don't know the body of water surrounding their island is called the Atlantic Ocean. Conroy bucks the system to fight for the basics of education for these children—books, paper, and pencils—and a delightful scene is when he takes them to the mainland for their first ever trick-or-treating experience against the administrator's wishes. Conroy was fired when he refused to use corporal punishment to discipline the children.

The Great Santini had to be painful for Conroy to write. The character of Bull Meecham is based on his father, Donald, a marine who was physically and emotionally abusive to his wife and seven children. In the novel the eldest son Ben vacillates between feelings of hatred and admiration for his hard-nosed father as he grows into manhood . (To learn how deep these emotions run, check out Conroy's eulogy to his father.) One of the most telling scenes in the book is when Ben beats his father at basketball for the first time, but can't enjoy the victory because the humiliated marine starts bouncing the ball off his son's head. Peg Conroy tried to hand this book to the judge at their divorce proceedings as evidence of her husband's brutality.

Other books by Conroy: The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life (1999); My Losing Season (2002)

Pat Conroy is married to Alabama native, Cassandra King.

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