The saga takes place in the wealthy and prestigious neighborhood called South of Broad, in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. The main character, Leopold Bloom King is 18, awkward, painfully shy, friendless and finally beginning to recover from the traumatic suicide of his older brother and hero.
Leopold’s (Leo’s) recovery is especially challenging since Leopold found his brother’s body—and since their mother continues to be furious and verbally abusive to Leo because his brother, and clearly her favorite son, died instead of him.
After years of counseling and a stay in a mental health institute being treated for depression, Leo is lonely and adrift, but he also is friendly, out-going and more than ready to make friends. He finds them in a tightly-knit group of high school misfits: his new neighbors – the exotically beautiful, talented and troubled twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe; Ike Johnson, the son of Leo’s new African American football coach (a first in the recently desegregated south); Niles and Starla Whitehead, a teenage brother and sister, recently arrived in town and already in trouble with the law; and three South of Broad Blueblood teens, Chad and Fraser Rutledge and Molly Huger. Surprisingly (strangely perhaps) Leo meets and becomes friends with all of them in one, very eventful, day.
South Carolina’s legacy of racism and class divisions are the background of the story, which weaves its way through two decades of the friendship that binds them together through good and bad marriages, hard-won successes and devastating problems. Finally their friendship is tested in an unimaginable set of circumstances. Then, with no warning at all, right out of the blue, comes the twisted ending. For me, this was the final piece of a story that already become over-the-top unbelievable.
Full disclosure: I was part of a very small minority of my fellow Books, Brew and Banter club members who did not particularly like this book. For me, the story became a soap opera, overdone from the plot, to the dialogue, to the over-the-top writing.
I know that Conroy is an award-winning, respected author of long-standing. A number of reviewers said this book was not one of Conroy’s best. I’ll take them, and my fellow Book Club members, at their word and try another of his books.