Thursday, March 24, 2011

Audiobook Review - South of Broad

Golden Lines (sorta):

"I felt like a booger on a kleenex as I crossed the room"

(***please see my audiobook dislike below)

(not so) Short and Sweet Summary:

After finding his brother Steven dead from slitting his wrist and neck in the bathtub, Leo King, the narrator of South of Broad, spends the rest of his life putting the pieces back together, struggling, in and out of trouble and dangerous situations, both legal and psychological, from his young teenage years at Penninsula High School in the historical city of Charleston and into his adult life over the next 2-3 decades. 

Among others Leo's story includes:

 his mother Dr. Lindsey King, devout Catholic, former nun, a James Joyce scholar and principal of Penninsula High School who makes her son learn 5 new vocabulary words each and every day;

his science teacher father, intelligent, calm, collected and a realist, head over heels in love with Leo's mother and the peacekeeper between his wife and son;

 Chad Worthington X, arrogant member of old Charleston society, an ass on the football field and in the halls of Penninsula High as well as in his own home within Charleston elite society at the Battery in the beginning of the story and an ass in his high end law office as a rich cheating husband by the end of the story;

Frazier Worthington, Chad's sister who doesn't quite fit the Charleston society feminine expectations, a star athlete known statewide for her abilities as well as her honest but quiet personality;

Molly Huggee, another member of the Charleston elite, who spends most of her life wavering back and forth between what she thinks she's supposed to be and what she thinks she wants to be, Chad's girlfriend in the beginning and his unhappy, whiny wife at the end;

Trevor and Sheba Powe, flamboyant twins, whose mother is an alcoholic running from a psychotic, abusive husband; they join the group their last year in high school and leave Charleston as soon as they can...Trevor to San Francisco where he can openly be himself, a promiscuous gay man, and Sheba to Hollywood where she becomes a star.

Niles and Starla, two orphans from the Appalachians, rescued by Leo; both eventually marry other members of the group, but only one of them will survive the trauma they lived through before Leo found them tied to a chair.

Betty, a young African American orphan, sent to Penninsula with Niles and Starla to assimilate with other groups of kids before turning 18 and being sent out on her own.

Ike Jefferson, son of the first black head football coach at Penninsula, mistrustful of Leo at first, but honest, tough, and determined to break through the racial barriers of Charleston.
Through these relationships, collective and individual, Leo will make sense of the world...and finally come to grips with the fact that we are all just hanging on, taking life one day at a time and rolling with its violent punches.
My Initial Reaction

I don't think I've ever been so relieved for a story to end.  By the time the action picks up high speed in South of Broad, I was so exhausted that I was holding on by a thread during the chapters in the last section of the book...
Leo's story reminded me a lot of The Big of friends growing together from high school into adulthood, some in more positive directions than others...South of Broad covers more time in detail than The Big Chill with other individual stories weaving in and out and breaking up the sequence at times.  The characters are rich...and complicated at the same time.  The reader either loves them or hates them...and at times will be disappointed, even with characters he/she loves.

What I Liked:

You can't help but like Leo.  How in the world he manages toughing it out through his brother's death, his mother's stubbornness, his wife's craziness and holds all his friends together amid complete total chaos at the same time is beyond me. 

Conroy's descriptions are vivid.
Conroy spends a lot of time describing the surroundings...and vivid descriptions are absolutely imperative when your characters age 30 years and travel from Charleston, SC to San Francisco, CA, particularly in the Tenderloin during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's. 

After the whirlwind that is Leo's story, the ending is right. There is only so much one person can stand...the final straw for Leo was also the final straw for me as well, and it would have been unbelievable for Leo to absorb the last surprise without some fallout.  I personally wanted to vomit in my car.

Throughout everything that happens to Leo, I never felt sorry for him; Leo never wanted sympathy...he was a character who pulled himself up by the bootstraps and dusted his behind off time and time again and became a stronger person each time he made it through the storm...literally and figuratively.

What I Didn't Like:

The plot of this story doesn't even really begin until Chpt 3.  I would have read this book much faster had I been reading it instead of listening to it...but I probably would have missed some of the intracacies that are characteristics of Conroy's writing.  There were times when I was gritting my teeth.

The story was exhausting - it is packed...not just with Leo's issues but the issues of all his friends.  It was exhausting to write this review because of how much goes on in this story, including but not limited to:
racism, southern stereotypes, juvenile system, psychological disorders, Catholicism, homosexuality, pedophilia, alcoholism, classism, journalism, hurricanes, psycho killers and on and on and on...

lots of language...because I was listening in the car I had to make sure I was alone in the car...the language was appropriate for the story but it was very crude language...not just the usual shit, damn or hell...but words that will make you cringe...especially if you're listening to it.   Sorry, Mom, this one is not for you.
Sequence breaks - I can usually deal with this kind of thing...but it happened TOO MUCH with South of Broad.  When Leo and his friends are in San Francisco trying to find Trevor, they literally have to rescue him...right in the middle of the rescue, Conroy stops and tells another story of when they were all younger...yes, the story is relevant but geez...these breaks began to get on my nerves...especially when they were long and drawn out breaks.

What I Didn't Like Specifically about the Audiobook

The reader of this book, Mark Deakins, is not a Southerner. His accent reminds me of those old Civil War movies where non-Southern people try to pretend to be Southern.

If I hadn't been in my car traveling 1 1/2 hrs to and from the airport, I probably would have popped this baby right out of the CD player from the first word.

It's very difficult to pick out golden lines when you're listening to a story...I write/annotate/journal as I read which is probably against the law while a person is driving (if not, it should be). I don't decide on my Golden Line until I'm completely done and then I pick out the sentences that I think paint a picture with words of what can be expected in the story. The only reason I even remembered the Golden Line I used in this review was because I typed it up as soon as I started the audiobook...the quote comes at the very beginning when Leo is walking across the dining room of the country club to meet his parents as they discuss with two families of upper crust Charlestonian society how best to handle their own children's transfer to Penninsula High after a minor drug related incident. Leo is describing how purposely conspicuous he feels as a non-member of the club.
I'd say a booger is pretty conspicuous...I just never really thought about it :p


This story is one of resiliance.  It is a story about what happens when life kicks us in the face again and again and again.  Leo's story is one of family...his biological family as well as those he brings into his inner circles and loved as much as, if not sometimes more than actual family members...and all the complications those relationships bring with them.

Did I love this book? no
Am I glad I read it? yes

If you like books set in Charleston, SC, San Francisco, CA, the Citadel, newspaper rooms, educational settings and stories about survival that include some places where you almost want to put your head between your knees and catch your breath, you should read this book.  If you are easily offended or don't want visuals of young men dying from AIDS, child abuse, incest, etc, you don't want to go here.

Am I going to read another Conroy?  YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT!


  1. I'm rather shocked to say this but I've never read Pat Conroy. I've seen movies based on his books (I know not your thing but The Great Santini is really good). One of these days I'm going to have to get around to him.

    I hate, just hate a bad Southern accent. Bad accents of any kind are difficult but there's something about a bad Southern accent that sets my teeth on edge. I will not be listening to this one, thanks for the heads up. You're a brave woman for sticking with it.

  2. I think I saw The Great Santini a long time ago...visions of the soldier dad hitting his son in the head with a basketball?

    "sets my teeth on edge" - you said it!!
    I don't recommend listening to this one; I wish I'd just read it.

  3. oh, no! I know I liked this one when I read it when it was first released. Sorry t did not work for you :(

  4. I was getting tired just reading the initial character list. It does sound tiring.

  5. Diane, I liked it...but it was just too much...each character almost had a storyline to himself/ was like 15 books in one...I do think I would have liked it better if I had read it instead of listening to it...I could have skimmed when I wanted to jump ahead rather than just feeling tortured at times.

    Jenners, it was impossible to write a short review for this one...who the heck do you leave out...I actually did leave out 2 other really important characters in Leo's life...but I just couldn't write anymore.

  6. Hmmm... it sounds as if this book could have been broken into a couple of books. I hate when books have too much going on.

  7. Alexis, me too!! By the time the hurricane starts brewing, I was rolling my eyes...I thought, "surely not!" :(