Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book review: The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg

In All Over But the Shouting, Rick Bragg's father is a demon drunk, a total asshole loser. But after many years have gone by, and after he himself acquired a step-son, he realized he might have judged harshly with partial information from biased sources. His father couldn't be just evil to the core. After all, why would his mother have married him and stayed with him for so long? He regrets that he didn't get to know his father's family, his grandmother in particular, better. But he tries to fix this.

He interviews everyone he can find who knew his father back then. From people who were friends with him as kids, to family, to his mother. His older brother funnily only has one good memory of their father, which is the time he brought Rick a tricycle. Rick says their father never brought him a tricycle. His brother says their father left it in the driveway and then ran over it with the car, so Rick never actually got it.

Rick's father, Bobby, and Rick both grew up poor, but real boys' boys. They grew up hunting, fishing, swimming, getting in fights, and drinking from a very young age. Rick's step-son is the opposite: a spoiled, sensitive mama's boy. It takes Rick a long time to adjust to this boy, and he does have some positive influence on him, but it also makes him reevaluate his own childhood, and how important being "manly" really is.

Bobby had his good points, and towards the end there's even a time when you think everything could turn around for the family, but Rick's mother just couldn't trust him anymore. And I don't blame her, although I was rooting for that to work out.

I think this book would be odd if you haven't read Bragg's two previous family memoirs, but it was the perfect wrap-up to pull everything together. Bragg's writing is brilliant, his research is thorough, and he's open-minded and even-handed about a man he'd spent most of his life hating. I think a lot of us could learn from Bragg, to take a second look at assumptions of the past. A good lesson for the end of the year.

I read an ARC that I got at my old job from the publisher, but it was before I even had a blog so certainly not in exchange for a review.

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