May 2009

Benjamin Jacob Hollars

nonfiction

The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg

In many ways The Prince of Frogtown -- Rick Bragg’s follow up to his previous memoirs All Over but the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man -- completes the trilogy of the Bragg family history. While All Over but the Shoutin’ “tried to honor [Bragg’s] mother” and Ava’s Man attempted to build “from the mud up [Bragg’s] maternal grandfather,” his latest effort holds its gaze on the black sheep of the family: Charlie Bragg, the author’s father. 

In The Prince of Frogtown, Bragg remains stylistically consistent with his previous work. His similes continue to be both accurate and humorous, and when he writes, “But a man who chases a woman with a child is like a dog that chases a car and wins,” or that “a parenting lesson” from Bragg is as absurd as “the Abominable Snowman [telling] you to stop tracking mud in the house” the reader quite easily settles back into the author’s familiar tone. His ability to conjure the nostalgia of the Deep South is equally impressive, in particular when he writes of a “Paradise” that “was never heaven-high when I was a boy but waist-deep, an oasis of cutoff blue jeans and raggedy Converse sneakers…” Yet perhaps the greatest strength of his latest work isn’t his ability to maintain the status quo of his previous efforts, but rather, to draw upon a newfound sense of maturity and retrospection, allowing him to weave two separate tales of the difficulties often encountered between fathers and sons.

Through a combination of hearsay, rambles and straight talk, Rick Bragg creates an unflinching mosaic of his father’s life, as well as the time and place in which he lived. His ability to capture such a wide-sweeping cast of characters -- from the town sheriff to the beautiful girl in the church pew -- is astounding, and Bragg’s recreation of Charlie Bragg’s life maintains a level of detail and specificity rarely achieved by other memoirists.

While Bragg’s depiction of his father are quite entertaining, perhaps even funnier are Bragg’s depictions of his own interactions with his stepson. Rick Bragg makes no excuses for his ignorant leap into fatherhood, often noting that perhaps it was wrong to encourage his stepson (“the boy”) to cuss or fight or “be a man,” but that he simply couldn’t help himself. One standout scene comes to mind in which Bragg takes his stepson on a snipe hunt. After a night of hunting yields nothing, the boy is crushed. Only later does Bragg discover that “the boy always wanted a bird” and took his stepfather’s silly rite of passage as a serious attempt at capturing one. “Well how in the hell would I know that?” asked a bewildered Bragg. It is a question Rick Bragg’s father, Charlie, must have asked himself as well during the few-and-far-between interactions with his own sons.

At the book’s conclusion, we are left with a memoir in which every sentence serves as a testament to the difficulties of fatherhood. Bragg’s struggles with his past role as a son and his future role as a father intersect, urging the reader to take pity on both; a triumphant reminder that despite the least or greatest intentions, the learning curve of fatherhood is slow, and oftentimes, littered with hard lessons along the way. 

The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg
Vintage
ISBN: 1400032687
272 Pages