It's difficult to treat Conroy's novels without trying to come to terms with the role of mental illness in the lives of his narrators. They are frequently people deeply damaged by verbal or physical abuse at the hands of their parents as well as traumatized by events in their lives. Sometimes, as in the present volume as well as in Prince of Tides, psychiatrists play at least a part in their healing. The fact that contemporary psychiatry is more about drug therapy than anything to do with behavioral or attitudinal change doesn't seem to occur in a Conroy novel. In Conroy, it's often the power of love that cures the hurts and damage caused by life, and he creates healing scenarios that are often deeply affecting.
Conroy is a child of the South and southern novels, like southern life, often treat with intricacies of racial interactions that those of us from the north are likely too easily to stereotype and oversimplify. From his first novel, The Water is Wide (later made into the film “Conrack” with Jon Voight) dealing with a young teacher in the Gullah community of the South Carolina barrier islands, to The Lords of Discipline about the desegregation of Conroy's alma mater The Citadel, to South of Broad the peculiar intricacies of the relationships between people who have a history of slavery, secret racial mixing, and living in close proximity to each other are explored with humor, insight, and grace. Conroy never papers over the difficult times whites and blacks have encountered, but he exudes a spirit of hope borne from familiarity and respect in the examples he chooses.
South of Broad by Pat Conroy is published by Doubleday Books and can be purchased from them directly, at local, or online bookstores. Support your local independent bookseller.