South of Broad. Pat Conroy.

Conroy, Pat. South of Broad. Dial Press Paperback 2010 (original Random House 2009). F; 05/11

Okay, this grew on me. But in the end I was most impressed with a plot twist and so couldn’t credit the metaphoric literary stuff I think the author was after.

The repartee in the great arguments between characters feels like the aftermath of an intense conversation where you think of all the things you wish you’d said, but didn’t. Nobody is that good. The fireworks bounce off fake kevlar, and instead of aching with Kafka at our ineptitude we’re expected to cheer for Pete Sampras or Superman. It’s a comic book, packed with vicarious thrills of a kind I haven’t had to deal with since Hardy Boys or Spin and Marty on Disneyland. Leo and the other male characters have too much of the juvenile cameraderie I can’t help imagining Mr Conroy wishes he’d had, and thinks he now can make up. The grown-up me ain’t buyin’ it.

Women don’t fare a lot better. Sheba getting into bed with the boy surprises us as a plot element, but we don’t get the surprise we really want which is something genuine in his experience. We should smell her and feel what she’s like inside (preferably I think without quite being told) but we don’t. Even the description of her street movie scene doesn’t help me understand or want to get to know her: she’s a college-boy fantasy complete with ultimate letdown.

We do get a bunch of impressive plot-related interpersonal fireworks. In the end it’s a psychological whodunit, although a good one. Leo’s psychosis, depression and PTSD (to put it all in appropriate clinical terms) and his Freudian dream-based redemption are paper frills on the end of the only lamb chop here, but chewing away on it the flavor never gets beyond that same late-childhood fast-food.

“Cheaply written”, pronounced Miss Bell, the Maple Grove Elementary School librarian explaining why there were no Hardy Boys mysteries in the library. I’m sure she was right, but those stories were pitched perfectly to a moderately bright nine-year-old who loved to read. We can put it politely and call this one pitched to a slightly older audience half-asleep on a summer beach. 6.1

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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