Thursday, August 20, 2009
SOUTH OF BROAD by Pat Conroy ... My Literary Twitter Review
I am critiquing Pat Conroy's new novel as I read it. (August 17-20) Think of this as Literary Twitting.
THE PROLOGUE: Conroy is famous for his poetic prologues. The one in "The Lords of Discipline" was great, and the prologue in "The Prince of Tides" was amazing. But this time ... come on ... Conroy seems to be reaching a bit for a romantic, sepia-toned description of Charleston. It reads more like PR copy written by someone from the Visitor's Bureau. One description - "or hear the bells of St. Michael's calling cadence in the cicada-filled trees along Meeting Street" is odd because we all know the major sound on Meeting Street these days are leaf blowers.
One other odd statement about Charleston, Conroy writes that the city is "tolerant of nothing mismade or ostentatious." Yeah, I never see anything ostentatious in Charleston. No ostentatious houses, no ostentatious people.
CHAPTER ONE: Let's see, another sibling suicide. Another overbearing unloving mother. More lapsed Catholic angst. I've already read "The Prince of Tides."
CHAPTER TWO: OMG. The book has recipes. Leo describes how to prepare benne wafers. *sigh* I expect recipes in a Benton-Frank novel. Not here.
More lapsed Catholic angst.
Okay ... no high school kids are this witty.
Found a continuity error. The mother keeps telling Leo they are having lunch at the Yacht Club. "Noonish," she says. However on page 39 there is this sentence: "Just after three, I began packing the cookies in a tin ... " and on page 45 it says "it was the noonday hour ..."
So, is this a time-travel book also?
CHAPTER SIX: Huge continuity and character error on page 99. Previously, (pg.37) Leo spends half a page about how his mother NEVER cooked, how in 18 years he had "seen his mother in the kitchen only during those times when she was passing through on her way to the garage ... I could not swear she had ever lit the stove ... or even knew the direction to the spice cabinets."
Pg. 99 - Leo's mother is making hot chocolate for everyone after a late night disturbance! Hmmm, good thing hot chocolate doesn't need something from the spice cabinets.
PART TWO: Okay, This section is written in present tense. *sigh* There are dozens of books I haven't read because they are written in present tense. It's pretentious, disconcerting and, unfortunately, becoming more prevalent. I cannot think of any novel that is improved by the use of present tense vs. past tense.
Resisting the urge to skip along. These characters are waaay too clever and I have yet (pg. 175) found a character that I like.
Again, I don't like ANY of these people! Conroy has created a perfect Politically Correct group of friends. The books starts in 1969 and Leo becomes friends with two blacks (one who becomes Police Chief in Charleston), two orphans from the mountains of North Carolina (outcasts that are snubbed by Charleston society), a brilliant brother and sister whose mother is a drunk and father is a psychopath (the brother is a brilliant pianist and homosexual and the sister is gorgeous and becomes a major Hollywood star) and oddly enough, a couple of Charleston elites named Rutledge. Leo (the narrator) is such a wimp (even wimpier than Tom Wingo in "The Prince of Tides") who lives in Charleston society but is not part of it. Why is he friends with these awful people and why is he so devoted to them? There had better be a good explanation later in this book, cause if not ... he is a total wuss!
PART THREE: This section is also written in present tense. *sigh* Here comes the cliched AIDS section. During the 1980s the brilliant pianist lives in San Fran and contracts AID, and suddenly becomes mussing; all the Charleston high school friends come running to the rescue.
Basically, I am now reading this book just to finish it. HIGHLY DISAPPOINTING. I'm beginning to think that "Beach Music" is a better than this novel! And "Beach Music" was tedious. Wow.
Finally finished the San Fran section. Talk about weak plot points. The Chas. group is in San Fran searching for their missing friend and one of them gets mugged and (wait for it) the mugger turns out to be a man from South Carolina who the Chas. men had played football against in high school!!!!! The mugger went on to play professional football for the Oakland Raiders and then became a crack addict and is living in an abandoned car. *WHAT?* So, the Chas. group helps him, reforms him ... I'm sure he will show up later in the book and perform some heroic act.
PART FOUR: The predictable flashback back to high school and the events that made this group to become close friends. *Yawn*.
QUESTION: Why does Conroy keep talking about the palm-shaded streets and " the city of palms". Last time I looked, 99% of them are Palmettos, not palms.
Less than 100 pages to go. YEA!!
Okay, Conroy validated something I already knew - most Charleston people South of Broad are inbred morons. You'd have to be to think that riding out a hurricane on Water Street was a good idea.
Predicted the ending 100 pages ago. VERY cliched ... very overwrought. *yawn* The main problem with this novel is - I didn't give a shit about any of these characters.
I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS TO ANYONE!!! Go back and read "The Great Santini", "The Lords of Discipline" or "The Prince of Tides." Those are great books. "Beach Music" sucked. And this one sucks AND blows.
Let's see. Conroy will have another novel written in 10 years (maybe) and I'm pretty sure I won't read it.
Posted by Mark R. Jones at 8/20/2009 02:24:00 PM