Thursday, October 15, 2009

Books Set In Charleston

I've recently read two books set in Charleston, SC, one of the loveliest cities in the country. I went to college in Charleston (GO Cougars!) and wound up staying there for fifteen years. I made some good friends and had a good time.

The first book is The House on Tradd Street, by Karen White. It's a ghost story/mystery/love story. Our heroine, Melanie Middleton, a type-A real estate agent, inherits the house on Tradd Street from a colleague of her grandfather. The old man has no relatives of his own. Melanie doesn't like getting attached to anything. She lives in a condo with white walls and sparse furnishings. The old man stipulated in his will that she had to live in his house for a year before she could sell it, because that's exactly what she had intended to do when she heard she was the benificiary of his will. In order to sell the house Melanie had to first renovate it. Of course she grows to love it, but that's not the crux of the story. Enter Jack Trenholm, a well-known writer of true-crime mysteries. There was a story that the old man's mother had run off with a known gangster and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. Jack wants to help her renovate the house and research the story of the missing couple. Melanie doesn't fully trust him because she really doesn't trust anybody. She's also a bit of a misanthrope. Oh, yes, the ghosts: Melanie can see ghosts and the house seems to have two of them, one benevolent and the other decidedly evil. She has to fight the evil ghost and wonder about the nice one. She knows there is a reason why she was chosen as beneficiary of the will, and of course she spends most of the story trying to figure out why. I'm not telling this as eloquently as I'd like, but it was a good story, a little different from what I usually read, and it had a very satisfying ending. I really enjoyed it.

The other book with a Charleston setting is South of Broad, by Pat Conroy. It's the story of Leo King and his group of friends. They all met in high school and remained friends decades later. The characters in this book include Leo and his parents, a loving father and a difficult to love mother; a set of extremely talented, artistic twins and their drunken mother; three orphans; a black football player (who later becomes chief of police); several Charleston blue-bloods and their extremely snobbish parents; and one very scary sociopathic pedophile. There are other characters, but I don't want to give anything away. You must read this book. You don't even have to know anything about Charleston to enjoy it. Conroy uses many real names of people (he probably knows these people personally) and places and changes others. From his beautiful writing you get a sense of the loveliness of Charleston. Leo tells the story and right away you find out that he, at nine years old, was the one to find his older brother in the bathtub with his wrists and throat slit. Leo has spent time in a mental institution, and when the story opens he is doing community service for having been caught at a party with a large amount of cocaine in his pocket. Someone else put it there, but Leo never told the police who it was. Leo is rebuilding his life. He's seventeen and has a strong character, so he's doing well with his rehabilitation. He also inherits a house on Tradd Street, but Leo is thrilled about it, unlike Melanie in The House on Tradd Street. (I don't think there was any plagiarism going on with either of these two books, just coincidence.) The story covers the years from 1969, when Leo and his friends were in high school, to the early 1990s, after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. There is a very harrowing description of the night Hugo hit and of the aftermath of the storm. (For anyone who is wondering, Charleston recovered at least physically if not emotionally from the hurricane's mess.) At one point in the story, the friends all go to San Francisco to find and rescue one of the twins, who is suffering from AIDS. My friend Theresa, who hasn't finished the book yet, thought it seemed a bit far-fetched in places, but it's FICTION people! Suspend your disbelief and just enjoy it. My description, and the one on the flap of the book jacket, do not do justice to this stunning book. I would recommend it to anyone.

Karen White has a sequel to The House on Tradd Street, which I have already placed on my wish list. I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel to South of Broad, but I'm not sure Pat Conroy writes anything but stand-alone novels.


Theresa said...

Fiction, smiction. I guess I'm just not in the same league with people who can drop everything and jaunt off to foreign cities and countries with no hestition. And no one ever runs out of money. That's fiction. But I love Pat Conroy anyway, and Charleston, too, so I'll forgive them both.

Bridget said...

I remember reading a review of the first book and thinking it sounded interesting - thanks for reminding me!

I have a close friend who LOVES Pat Conroy's books, and adored South of Broad. I'm just not sure it's for me ...

KimSetser said...

I happened upon your blog by searching for books set in Charleston because I"m planning to go there soon. I LOVE South of Broad, and never thought twice about anything being far-fetched. LOL, guess that's what reading is for.