No, this is not about the Bible, but about finding God in Pat Conroy’s novel South of Broad. I came upon the novel by accident. We now live in the Low Country of South Carolina. When browsing the library within our community, I came across a collection of Conroy books and thought why not. I need to learn more about where we currently reside. I picked out South of Broad by chance.
The novel takes place in South of Broad, a Charleston neighborhood. It is narrated by Leo King who endures a deeply troubled childhood primarily due to the suicide of an older brother who he adored. Leo is a shy, socially inept teenager with few friends, but this all changes during the summer of his junior year in high school. Under different and somewhat unusual circumstances, Leo meets a remarkable group of friends—three of whom are orphans, three from aristocratic Charleston families, two are black, and one is gay. In part, the novel is the story of how these teenagers are transformed into remarkable adults.
The novel takes us through the racial struggles of the sixties, the horrible plague decimating gay men with AIDS in San Francisco in the ‘80s, and the devastating consequences of a Roman Catholic priest preying on a young boy. Throughout Conroy reveals truths about love, religion, racism, and what it means to be shaped by a particular place—in this case Charleston SC.
Your heart fills as you experience the deeply appealing intimacy of this disparate group of friends. It’s a Martin Buber, I/Thou, encounter. The book is beautifully written, funny, and irreverent. It’s an expression of Conroy’s deep love of Charleston, and a hymn to Jesus’ vision of an inclusive society. I highly recommend it to you.