Sunday, August 23, 2009

South of Broad

Pat Conroy is hands down, my favorite author. Coming from a Journalism and English major you would probably expect something more erudite, classic, and stuffy. But Pat Conroy's books are the only books that have ever hit me so hard I've openly cried (Prince of Tides and my absolute hands down all time favorite Beach Music; my copy is missing the front cover I've read it so many times). He and his characters are everything I am: Southern, crazy, and Catholic, which is not the easiest cocktail of roots to make. While the book has some faults, including the usual love-hate relationship I have with his novels - it spans too far of a time period, it's too sweetly sentimental - there are all the same reasons I love them, including his magnificent way with words. Pat Conroy can take me out of this apartment and into South Carolina in one paragraph. In South of Broad, his new novel, he brings to life a melange of backgrounds, histories, time, race, and class. It's been 14 years since he's had a novel, and this one is up there with the others, but not quite at the same level. At one point in the book, Pat's main character, Leo King, says:

"I never knew how strange a breed of cat a Southerner is until I began to travel around the country. Only then did I learn that the Southerner represents a disfigurement in the national psyche, a wart or a carbuncle that requires either a lengthy explanation or cosmetic surgery whenever I would stumble upon the occasional Vermonter or Oregonian or Nebraskan in my journeys...I once compiled a list in my column about the reasons people seemed to hate the South, and I invited my readers to add to the literature of contemptuousness a Southerner might encounter on the road. My list was fairly simple:

1. Some people hate Southern accents.
2. Some fools think all Southerners are stupid because of those accents.
3. Movie buffs hate the South because they have seen Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, In the Heat of the Night, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Easy Rider.
4. a man from Ohio hates the South because he once ate grits at the Atlanta airport. He admitted that he put milk and sugar on them and thought it was the worst cream of wheat he'd ever tasted.
5. Many women who married Southern men, then divorced them, hate the South, as do any men who married Southern women and divorced them. All men and women who married Southerners, then divorced them, hate their Southern mother-in-laws, ergo the entire South.
6. All liberals based in other geographies hate the South because it is so conservative. They refuse to believe that any true liberals could also be Southern.
7. All women not from the South hate Southern women because Southern women consider themselves far more beautiful than the women of lesser states.
10. All Americans who are not Southern hate the South because they know Southerners don't give a rat's fanny what the rest of the country thinks about them."

This month's Southern Living has a feature on Pat Conroy, and I cannot wait to find some holiday time to actually enter his world in Charleston. Until then, his books will just have to sustain me -Beach Music is up next for the 100th time. I hope I can keep the pages from ripping.

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