Kirkus Starred Review – June 15, 2009
First novel in 14 years from the gifted spinner of Southern tales (Beach Music, 1995, etc.)—a tail-wagging shaggy dog at turns mock-epic and gothic, beautifully written throughout. The title refers, meaningfully, to a section of Charleston, S.C., and, as with so many Southern tales, one great story begets another and another. This one starts most promisingly: “Nothing happens by accident.” Indeed. The Greeks knew that, and so does young Leopold Bloom King. It is on Bloomsday (June 16) 1969 that 18-year-old Leo learns his mother had once been a nun. Along the way, new neighbors appear, drugs make their way into the idyllic landscape and two new orphans turn up “behind the cathedral on Broad Street.” The combination of all these disparate elements bears the unmistakable makings of a spirit-shaping saga. The year 1969 is a heady one, of course, with the Summer of Love still fresh in memory, but Altamont on the way and Vietnam all around. Working a paper route along the banks of the Ashley River and discovering the poetry of place (“a freshwater river let mankind drink and be refreshed, but a saltwater river let it return to first things”), Leo gets himself in a heap of trouble, commemorated years later by the tsk-tsking of the locals. But he also finds out something about how things work (“Went out with a lot of women when I was young,” says one Nestor; “I could take the assholes, but the heartbreakers could afflict some real damage.”) and who makes them work right—or not. Leo’s classic coming-of-age tale sports, in the bargain, a king-hell hurricane. Conroy is a natural at weaving great skeins of narrative, and this one will prove a great pleasure to his many fans.
Booklist – June 1, 2009
An unlikely group of Charlestonian teens forms a friendship in 1969, just as the certainties and verities of southern society are quaked by the social and political forces unleashed earlier in the decade. They come from all walks of life, from the privileged homes of the aristocracy, from an orphanage, from a broken home where an alcoholic mother and her twins live in fear of a murderous father, from the home of public high school’s first black football coach, and from the home of the same school’s principal. The group’s fulcrum, Leopold Bloom King, second son of an ex-nun Joyce scholar, who is also the school’s principal, and a science-teacher father, is just climbing out of childhood mental illness after having discovered his handsome, popular, athletic, scholarly older brother dead from suicide. Over the next two decades, these friends find success in journalism, the bar, law enforcement, music, and Hollywood. Echoing some themes from his earlier novels, Conroy fleshes out the almost impossibly dramatic details of each of the friends’ lives in this vast, intricate story, and he reveals truths about love, lust, classism, racism, religion, and what it means to be shaped by a particular place, be it Charleston, South Carolina, or anywhere else in the U.S.
— Mark Knoblauch