Pat Conroy’s 2009 novel, South of Broad, is a sweeping epic encompassing twenty years of friendship. The narrator is Leopold Bloom King (known as Leo), a shy, genuine teenager who is haunted by his older brother’s suicide. As a senior in his Charleston, South Carolina, high school, eighteen-year-old Leo forms a lasting bond with twins Sheba and Trevor Poe, the newly desegregated African American boy Ike Jefferson, runaway orphans Niles and Starla Whitehead, the wealthy Chad and Fraser Rutledge, and Chad’s girlfriend Molly Huger. As Leo deals with the ghosts of his past and his lost childhood in the wake of finding his brother dead, his friends all deal with their own demons. However, it is their lasting and true friendship that gets everyone through the hard times.
Throughout the course of this nonlinear novel, in which the story jumps back and forth between the late 1960s and the late 1980s, the friends go through a series of troubles and successes that strongly bind them together. They experience important football games, the Poe twins’ psychotic father, fame, AIDS, and troubled marriages. The friends ultimately make a quest to San Francisco to track down the missing and possibly ill Trevor, who is openly gay and suffering from AIDS. Some of the members of the group have since married one another and have their own issues to contend with, but they pull together in the name of friendship.
South of Broad covers an immense amount of dramatic themes and plot lines. Themes include rape, suicide, southern mentality, race and social status, family issues, friendship, and marriage. Throughout the novel, there are many underlying connections to James Joyce’s classic Ulysses. Leo is named after Joyce’s character Leopold Bloom, and the friends first begin their friendship on “Bloomsday,” the day in which Ulysses is set.
Pat Conroy’s work is a lush, rich, lyrical telling of the deep connection between a group of lifelong friends. South of Broad illustrates how the sacred bond of friendship helps one survive marriages and breakups, successes and failures, and all of the challenges that life presents.
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