Fourteen year-old Lily Melissa Owens has been a motherless child for ten years now. It fills her with anguish to think that she, at age four, had a hand in the accidental shooting death of Deborah Fontanel Owens, her own mother. Lily’s life has been shaped around this incident, and she has never ceased to yearn for her mother, (for a mother’s love), although her memories of the actual woman have been blurred by time. In fact, Lily has very little memory of that dark day’s events, and is totally dependent on her miserable, sadistic father, T. Ray Owens, for any and all accounts of her mom. The only person who shows her any affection is Rosaleen, a black peach-picker T. Ray brought in from the fields to care for his child.
After a fourteen year hiatus, author Pat Conroy is back with a long awaited novel, SOUTH OF BROAD. His last novel BEACH MUSIC was quite good, as is this latest offering. However, to my mind, nothing beats Conroy’s PRINCE OF TIDES and THE GREAT SANTINI, although SOUTH OF BROAD comes close. There are similarities in all Conroy’s novels – his characters, their lives, dilemmas, and the author’s obvious love for the American South. The common thread which weaves its way throughout his work are autobiographical elements. According to a recent magazine interview, Conroy states that he writes from his own life experiences, which might explain why many of his characters have such emotionally traumatic childhoods. Conroy, the first of seven children, was born into a military family, and was the victim of his father’s violence and abuse from a young age. The military life – his father was a US Marine Corps pilot – also pushed the family from post to post, and Conroy claims to have moved 23 times before he was 18. When he was 15 he moved to Beaufort, SC, and began his love affair with the South. He is also a graduate of the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, a school featured in many of his novels.