Sunday, July 26, 2009

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Author and native Atlanta, Georgian Pat Conroy has a new book, South of Broad. It is being published by Nan A. Talese, and arrives in bookstores on August 19. I managed to snag an advanced reader's copy some weeks ago, and read the book over a few days.

Pat Conroy's men are Southern to the core. They just don't wear it on their sleeve as a simple-minded caricature (unless intended to irritate someone who's predisposed to see those same caricatures). Conroy's protagonists are damaged, bruised and roughed up, but still full of dignity and grace. They are prone to be bookish, non-judgemental, empathetic, a bit too sensitive, and can even cook well. They also love football, can handle themselves on a basketball court, appreciate the discipline and tradition of military service, and can use a rod, reel, and firearm with ease. They are right at home in the library, in the woods, on the water, or on a ball field. Conroy's men are a little embarrassed about themselves, pretty quick to turn the other cheek, and wicked pranksters who recognize that even a thinking man will sometimes encounter some S.O.B. in life who is so sorry that only whipping his ass will get the message across.

Mr. Conroy's readers figured out a long time ago that he has a love (hate) relationship with the city of Charleston, South Carolina, the Carolina low country, and the South in general. Reviewers are already calling this book a love letter to Charleston. No doubt, Charleston is the star of this novel. But this book is also full of the character types that won Mr. Conroy millions of fans over the years. There are also guest appearances by Hollywood and Mother Nature. I remember being in Savannah that September night in 1989, on the telephone with a co-worker over in Charleston, and wondering what that must have been like for him. Now I have a pretty good picture. Mr. Conroy's language is just tremendous.

If this book is a love letter to Charleston, it is also a beautifully written tribute to friendship. Mr. Conroy writes of "essential men". He might well have referred to essential women, or essential people. That's the real story. That, and a gallant, bookish nerd who suffers the nickname, 'The Toad'.

Pat Conroy is the author of eight previous books. Though the folks of the Carolina Low Country claim him, he is a native of Atlanta, Georgia.

Pat Conroy will be discussing his new book at the Day Chapel of the Carter Center at Emory University in Atlanta on Wednesday, August 19th. The event is at 7 pm, and doors open at 6 pm. Admission to the event is $30 ($25 for Friends of the Carter Center) and will include an autographed 1st edition of South of Broad.