Editor’s note: Anita Paddock’s review of books we should read are scheduled to appear on the second and fourth Friday of each month. Enjoy.
review by Anita Paddock
There is no better writer of the physical beauty of the South than Pat Conroy. In his latest book about Charleston, his descriptions sing with the melody of the sea, the architecture of the magical city, the lush gardens hidden behind brick walls, the smell of the tide rolling in. It’s enough to make you want to get in your car and book it to Charleston.
I fell in love with South Carolina years ago, about the time I first read Conroy’s, “The Prince of Tides,” which I declared then was the best book ever written. If I read it again now, when I’m older and presumably wiser, would I still think so?
Pat Conroy was bullied and beaten by his father, a Marine pilot. His beautiful mother didn’t, or couldn’t, stand up for him. He was sent to a military school, The Citadel, where he was again bullied. Read any of his books, most especially, “My Losing Season,” and you’ll know what his life was like. It’s a wonder he survived, but he was blessed with a great talent to tell a great story. And he does so on yellow legal pads because his father didn’t allow him to take typing (it was for sissies, one presumes) when he was in high school, so he’s just always written in long hand.
Full of demons impossible to make up, Pat Conroy rearranges aspects of his own family, shuffles the characters like a deck of cards, and lays them on the table for a reader to discover. Pick a card: suicide, incest, murder, AIDS, child molestation, racism, drug abuse, alcoholism. It’s all there. And it’s all here in “South of Broad,” the title coming from the area of Charleston that is the most historical and aristocratic.
Conroy’s latest novel introduces us to Leo King (his new wife is author Cassandra King), a young man who spent his youth in mental facilities, following his discovery of his beloved older brother, Steve, who slit his veins with his father’s straight razor in the family bathtub.
His father is a high school teacher (not at all like Conroy’s real father), and his distant mother, a high school principal, is a devotee of James Joyce’s, “Ulysses.” The novel opens on June 16th, 1969, a day celebrated as “Bloomsday” for those fans of the character Leopold Bloom in “Ulysses.”
Leo is 18-years old, and he meets, in one day, a bevy of unlikely teens--orphans, rich kids, black kids, new neighbor kids — who become best friends and continue their friendships until the novel ends. It is around this set of friends that the novel revolves, and, believe me, a whole bunch of bad things happen, including Hurricane Hugo.
Leo remains in Charleston and becomes a popular columnist for the local newspaper. Old mysteries are solved and broken dreams are buried. The dawn of a new day over the grandeur of Charleston brings hope to Leo and his friends, all survivors of one thing or another.
With every book review, I try to find someone whose life vaguely parallels a character in the book I’m reviewing. Sometimes, I have to stretch to find the right person. Not this time. Because the main character, Leo, was a newspaper columnist, I knew exactly whom I’d ask.
Sharon Randall is a syndicated columnist who grew up in the mountains of North and South Carolina. Her columns appear every Monday in the Fort Smith newspaper. Her first two visits to Fort Smith, at the invitation of the Fort Smith Public Library, were so wildly popular that she’s coming again for a third time next spring.
Sharon says she loves Charleston and visited it first when she was on an eighth grade field trip.
“I love its gardens, its mansions, its restaurants, its kind of sweet-magnolia and salt-water charm. I love its people, too, of course, even if they seem a little too impressed with being Charlestonians, and hopelessly obsessed with ancestor worship.”
Her favorite book as a child was “Uncle Remus” by Joel Chandler Harris.
“My grandmother used that book to teach me to read, which, actually, probably explains a lot.”
Her grandmother also gave her “Gone with the Wind” the summer before the fourth grade.
“It kept me in rapture all summer long,” Sharon says.
But the most “formative” read of her youth was Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which changed her forever.
“Harper Lee became the measure of every writer I’ve ever read. And Atticus Finch became the measure of every man I’ve ever loved.”
Sharon just finished reading “The Sweet By and By” by Todd Johnson. She says it is marvelous, and she recommends it so highly that she may be writing a column about it.
Guess what I’ll be reading next?
Contact Anita at email@example.com