Tuesday, September 22, 2009
We meet the group of friends who will influence him well into adulthood: there is Ike Jefferson, son of the first black football coach at the school, his girlfriend Betty; Chad Rutledge and his sister Fraser, Molly Huger - all arch stereotypes of old Charleston society; Niles and his sister Starla, orphans whom Toad is ordered by his mother to befriend; and there are the twins--the beautiful Sheba, the future Hollywood starlet and Trevor her equally beautiful and homosexual brother whose mother is a raving alcoholic, and whose father is .....well......NO SPOILERS HERE. Conroy takes each of these and gives us a deeply developed character, relationships that are all too real, and heart-breaking scenes of friendship, denial, betrayal and loyalty.
Leo and the group must cope with mental illness, segregation, integration, AIDS, divorce, alcoholism, Hurricane Hugo, death, betrayal, and forgiveness as they live their lives through the tumultous decades of the 70's, 80's and into the 90's. Like his previous books, Conroy writes of relationships, of the influence of Roman catholicism during this period and on those relationships, and lets those relationships define the story. At several points, he could have written 'the end' (lesser writers certainly would have) but he is able to climb from one resolution up another peak and then slide down into a whirl of crisis bringing the reader along to a thoroughly unexpected (at least for me) finale.
Over, under and behind it all is the city of Charleston SC with its rivers, its sultry weather, its incredibly snooty old guard, and its antebellum mansions. Conroy's ability to evoke the essential beauty and ambience of this queen of southern cities is incredible. I've never lived there, but have visited several times. Each time I read one of Conroy's novels, it's like being on a trip to the low-country.
It's one of his best, and will be on my 'best of the year' list. Run and get it....or at least put it on your Christmas wishlist.
Thanks to Nan Talese at Doubleday for the ARC and the chance to review this fantastic novel.