By Liz Garrigan, NASHVILLE SCENE
Fathers don’t so much have to earn the love of sons as just accept it. That’s the lesson of Rick Bragg’s third book about his family, this one exploring the complicated and volatile relationship he had with his handsome, hard-drinking, self-destructive dad Charles Bragg and now the one he has with his own stepson, who adores him despite Bragg’s imperfections and doubts about his ability to be a parent.
The author’s honesty in this latest biographical dig, The Prince of Frogtown (Random House, 272 pp., $24), is affecting and clearly therapeutic for both Bragg and, depending on who’s turning the pages, the reader. He writes that it was Willie Morris who told him long ago that he would not have clarity or calm until he took to the page about his father.
“In this book I close the circle of family stories [All Over but the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man] in which my father occupied only a few pages, but lived between every line,” Bragg writes. “In my ﬁrst book, I tried to honor my mother for raising me in the deprivations he caused. In my second, I built from the mud up the maternal grandfather and folk hero who protected my mother from my father, but died before I was born, leaving us to him. In this last book, I do not rewrite my father, or whitewash him. But over a lifetime I have known a lot of men in prisons, men who will spend their eternity paying for their worst minute on earth. It came when they caught their wife cheating on them and thumbed back the hammer on a gun they bought to shoot rats and snakes, or got cross-eyed drunk in some ﬁsh camp bar and pulled a dime-store knife, just because they imagined a funny look or a suspicious smile. You do not have to forgive such men, ever, that minute. You can lock them away for it, put them to death for it, and spend your eternity cursing their name. It is not all they are.”
That a rough-and-tumble Alabama boy like Bragg, who grew up to chase women, see his share of ﬁstﬁghts and raise a lifetime of hell over many bygone weekends, could fall hopelessly and helplessly in love with a woman and claim “the boy,” as he calls his stepson, as his own is optimistic and touching. And if that weren’t reason enough to read this book, his trademark writing brings life in the South alive, so much so that you can taste it, smell it, feel it and—depending on the reader—even remember it.
Rick Bragg will read from The Prince of Frogtown at 7 p.m. Friday, June 6, at Barnes & Noble Brentwood.