Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Unlikely Love Story


South of Broad
by Pat Conroy

I suppose it is too soon to say that something will be one of my favorites of 2010, but my money is on South of Broad. This is Pat Conroy's first new novel in about 15 years, and it is just phenomenal. It is not a love story in the conventional sense of "boy meets girl, love ensues, tragedy strikes, relationship is troubled, eventually they get back together..." South of Broad is something altogether different - richer and better. There certainly are conventional man/woman love relationships woven through the story, but more than that it is a story about the enduring power of longtime friendship, and the lengths some friends will go to to protect one another. South of Broad also movingly depicts the redemption of a disappointing relationship between a boy and his mother, the ongoing tumultuous love between the same boy/man and the Catholic faith, a woman's agonizing choice between marrying Christ or marrying the ordinary human man whom she loves, and the unconditional love of a father for his troubled son. The story is also a love letter from the author to the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Conroy elegantly describes a city of incomparable beauty and grace. It was almost enough to make me want to move there, which is really saying something since I usually can't picture myself living in the Deep South.

Conroy's writing is witty, graceful, and often hilarious. He creates characters who are so real that we grieve their loss at the end of the narrative. I have never read a Conroy novel that I didn't like, but this is one of his best. It is the most overtly spiritual of his books - he sees the Church with all of her flaws and is kind to her anyway. Without beating the reader over the head with it, he shows us how the Church continues to beckon us, to call us home even with all of our anger, imperfection, and disbelief. I wondered if Conroy had ever heard that quote from St. Augustine that "the church is a whore, but she is my mother." He seems to understand the position of those of us who get frustrated with the church and our complicity with the world's sin, but we love her/us anyway. As the protagonist, Leo, describes his own rage and rebellion after his beloved brother's suicide, he says that the family priest told him "that the church was patient and would be waiting for me when I was ready to return. It was, and he was." Amen to that.

As terrific a book as this is, it is not easy to read from an emotional perspective. There are ugly pieces here - classism, homophobia, pedophilia, and promiscuity, for example. The scenes in the AIDS flophouses of San Francisco are among the most graphic and wrenching I have ever read. Conroy's real gift is pointing out the beauty that shimmers in the midst of all the ugliness the world can dole out. The instances of grace are even more powerful against the backdrops of some of the worst human sin we can imagine. Against all odds, this is a lovely, lovely book.

Reverent Reader

4 Comments:

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At 1/29/10, 9:41 PM , Anonymous Amy Louise said...

I completely agree. I really enjoyed this book and reflect on it often.

Cheers - Amy Louise

 
At 2/1/10, 4:43 PM , Anonymous Susan K. Dwyer said...

Wow... what a review; I think I'll read this one next.

** And now I see what you're talking about re: blog ad message; how incredibly annoying.....

 
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