Saturday, May 15, 2010
Sunday Morning Musings
Greetings, Fire Enthusiasts. I hope everyone is well and having a great weekend. I've come to you this morning to tell you about a little book I just finished reading, entitled, "South of Broad".
Pat Conroy, you son-of-a-gun, you did it again! And I hope you won't make us wait another 14 years for your next one.
I won't bore you with a new synopsis, but simply give you what the Publisher listed on the jacket: "Against the sumptuous backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina, South of Broad gathers a unique cast of sinners and saints. Leopold Bloom King, our narrator, is the son of an amiable, loving father who teaches science at the local high school. His mother, an ex-nun, is the high school principal and a respected Joyce scholar. After Leo's older brother commits suicide at the age of ten, the family struggles with the shattering effects of his death, and Leo, lonely and isolated, searches for something to sustain him. Eventually, he finds his answer when he becomes part of a tightly knit group of high school seniors... The ties among them endure for years, surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, as well as Charleston's dark legacy of racism and class divisions. But the final test of friendship that brings them to San Francisco is something no one is prepared for."
I never wanted to read Pat Conroy. I'm a horror guy. I grew up reading Michael Slade, Stephen King, Clive Barker, etc. When a family member encouraged me to read "Beach Music" 14 years ago I asked her whether anyone died in the first chapter. It turned out that someone had, but by leaping off a bridge and sending her husband's life spiralling out of control. It wasn't exactly the grizzly murder scene that I was hoping for. In any event, I read the book. If you have not read of my adoration of that book, not only will you, but no doubt it will continue to pop up in blogs over the course of however many years the Good Lord has allotted for me. Yes, it is that good. Brilliant, even.
Next, my complaining turned to utterly disappointed preparations. What? Allow me to explain. I would then tell my wife that I would never read another Conroy novel because there was no way in the world that it could possibly be any good compared with the masterpiece that was "Beach Music". One would think that I would have immediately rushed to the book store to purchase every title in the Conroy catalogue, but no. So brilliant was that home run of a book, I was scared to have my memory of it ruined by reading another of his, which could conceivably land in the shortstop's glove in short left field (sorry, I'm a baseball guy, too).
Eventually, however, I did succumb to temptation, sinner that I am, and read another: "The Prince of Tides". I liked that one, too, but immediately felt the same doubt begin to creep in: "There's no way he could be that good; he's gonna fly out here pretty soon and end the game!"
Well, guess what? He's that damn good! In fact, a home run derby champion!
Okay, enough about baseball.
Let me tell you a little bit about prose. There are some writers who attempt to reach a better score on the readability chart by adding words that people have only stumbled across in dictionaries. As you read their wordy and mistimed sentences, you trip and fall over yourself as you try your best to follow along. This gentleman's voice is one I have never heard before, but believe in from the word: go. His sentences bring to mind what it must be like to dine at the White House during a state dinner, with the perfect silverware, the embroidered linen napkins, the finest of china and foods prepared in ways that I have only read about in culinary magazines.
At one point in the novel, the characters have lived through the real event of Hurricane Hugo, and Mr. Conroy writes: "I return to a hurt city with the sound of chain saws echoing over the alleyways and cobblestones. Squat brown Dumpsters line the streets of the old town as workers fill them with waterlogged furniture. Whole libraries have died on their shelves and bookcases. Paintings of the founders of the colony find themselves tossed on junk heaps, sodden beyond recognition of hope of restoration. The shrimping fleet of Shem Creek has disappeared from the face of the earth. The corpses of sleek yachts lie marooned in the green flanks of the great salt marsh."
The next thing that Pat Conroy does so brilliantly is perfectly weave his plot lines. "Beach Music" had more plot lines than one could count, yet ended tied in beautiful and perfect little knots, and "South of Broad" is no exception. The novel begins with Leo as an friendless eighteen year old as fate suddenly conspires to give him a great circle of friends that will last him well into adult-hood. We then find ourselves transported to present-day where that circle must band together once again for a common goal. As the story continues to unfold, we go back to the time of their youth, as a great many things are explained and revealed in the present-day; things that scar them all forever; and some are destroyed by them.
I have had some tell me that I, too, write pretty good prose in my fiction. To that I say, thank you, but be on your way because Pat Conroy is the master and has set the bar way too high. Reading his stories makes me equally want to be a much better writer, as well as to want to abandon the whole enterprise and go back to my day job.
I'm kidding, of course.
Mr. Conroy is brilliant and gifted in a way that I could only hope to be, and his latest novel, "South of Broad", proves it. It may not have been enough to knock "Beach Music" off it's perch as my favorite novel, but it's very, very good.
We'll talk soon.