Thursday, September 24, 2009

So, did he write it?

This is probably a terrible suspicion, brought on by all the media coverage of the delays involved in publishing Pat Conroy's latest novel, South of Broad. It's on the NY Times best seller list and we still have long wait lists at the library but I've had customers returning this book with much the same feelings I've had. The uneven writing - now I truly understand what reviewers mean when they use that term - lends one to suspect that someone helped Conroy write this book. Someone, I might add, without his talent since last night, at about page 400 and something, I hit upon the Pat Conroy I knew and loved from previous novels; glorious language, insight and appreciation of the small beauties we encounter each and every day.

I'll admit, because it was Conroy, I deliberately ignored the infamous "rule of 50." The first fifty pages of this book are flat out poorly written. The conversations throughout don't have an ounce of credibility to them. These characters don't talk the way regular people do. The parents and child narrator Leo, don't interact in any way remotely believable, though certainly the way one would love to see parents and kids respond to eachother. Mom, a nun who left the convent to marry Leo's dad, is a supposedly hard-ass school principal, yet she lets her son and his buddies make decisions that affect policy. Hmmmm - not in my lifetime!

Leo, the only nuanced character in the book, finds acceptance with a motley crew of stereotypical friends (the flamingly gay Trevor Poe and his blatantly promiscuous sister Sheba, the uptight southern snob Chad Rutledge and his wife Molly, the requisite black couple, police officers Ike and Betty and the orphans Niles and Starla) in his South Carolina high school after being institutionalized over a nervous breakdown after his older brother Steven commited suicide. The story line goes back and forth over twenty years of friendship and heartbreak as the friends draw together and apart depending upon what's driving their needs at the time.

Still, I'll admit, what normally keeps me in a sprawling saga of this type is whether or not I care about the characters and what happens to them. The bottom line is that somehow, yes, I do. I'll be curious to see how many book groups pick this up for discussion as I notice there's a reading group guide at
Agree? Disagree? Let's talk.....

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