Until now, I have not read Rick Bragg's books about his kin in Alabama. There are so many other books to read, and I was not sure I wanted to get involved in another dysfunctional family story. With elements of alcohol, poverty, hunting, fishing, fighting, fast cars, heartache, and living a macho life in a rural setting from which some people can not escape, his books sounded too much like life where I grew up. Hitting too close to home. But I wanted an audiobook as I left the library Monday and The Prince of Frogtown was sitting in the library's new items display, so I took it. By the next afternoon when I went back to work, I had already listened to four of seven discs.
In The Prince of Frogtown, Bragg tells a classic tale well - that of a man who will not control his vices - Bragg's father. The author can not excuse Charles Bragg of his many sins, for he is still too hurt himself, but he looks deeply into all the elements that formed his father. There was the father's father and brothers who all spent their weekends in drunkenness. There was the mill town where everyone breathed the cotton dust. There were friends who were just as trapped by their early marriages and big families. What lifts the story is Bragg's graceful, eloquent storytelling and his determination to find something good to say about a lousy father. In this, he succeeds.
Between his chapters about his father, Bragg inserts little stories about his relationship with his stepson. In these, he struggles to find the proper way to be a father, a difficult task for someone who had such a bad example. The extent to which he succeeds is debatable, but he seems to be loved even in ineptitude.
The Prince of Frogtown should interest many readers and would be a great choice for discussion groups. I now want to go back to Bragg's previous writings.
Bragg, Rick. The Prince of Frogtown. Books on Tape, 2008. ISBN 9781415953990