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Biography Review   

 

 
Ava's Man
By Rick Bragg
Alfred A. Knopf, 2001
ISBN 0-375-41062-7

 

 
 

Rick Bragg’s second remembering book, Ava’s Man, is not as good as his first, All Over But the Shoutin’.  But few are.

However, in many little ways -- the way he slips tiny gems into paragraphs, like he’s hiding something for the reader to find and cherish -- it’s better.

Ol’ Charlie Bundrum, his mother’s daddy, a granddaddy Rick Bragg never knew, was what we used to call “a helluva fellow.” There are a few still around, but none like Charlie. There never was but one like him, and his grandson has got him nailed to a T, like the jackrabbit hunter, whiskey maker, likker drinker, hammer-swinging roofer, and catfish catcher that he was. A good, honest man who paid his bills and worked hard and loved his children and took no sass and sorriness from any clodhopper who thought he might upset his family, Charlie Bundrum bore in to the core and fought giants to keep his family life peaceful.

Oh, he and Ava, quite the sight of a woman herself, a tough little lady who bore him eight children -- all but one surviving to adulthood -- and kept his house tidy and cornbread on the table, they had a few knock-down, drag-out fights, raised some hell at one another, but they usually ended up in each other’s arms, loving the goodness back into their marriage.

Ava’s Man is a continuation of Rick Bragg’s family story. It goes back into the same toehills of the Appalachians of northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia that he explored in All Over but the Shoutin’.  It draws from the same well water, takes a slice out of the same family life, showing how it got to be where it was when his mother was strapped with taking care of him and his brothers without the help of a husband and father. It tells how she got to be the way she was.

Ava’s Man is a hill country ballad, rough and squeaky, a blue grass melody sung by an untrained voice that’s got a bottom hard as a pineknot and a range from here to yonder ridge, telling a story that can’t and won’t go unsung.

There’s some strong stuff in Ava’s Man.  It’s a bout a rough and rowdy old boy who was made a little different from you and me. He lived in a different time at a different place, in another world.

The way Rick Bragg writes, his people have seen things the rest of us have never seen and will never see, known things we’ve never known and will never know, heard voices we’ve never heard and won’t, and we don’t particularly want to; but it’s what makes them unusual and wonderful, tinged a special color by the sun or the moon, or by a particular wind that blows a particular way, striking a man the way it does.

By the end of Ava’s Man we see Rick Bragg’s mama, Margaret, a beautiful girl, falling in love with the boy who came home from Korea, Charles Bragg, on the streets of Jacksonville, Alabama, she smitten with his rose-stealing ways, he slightly off-kilter from the violence he had experienced in that country far, far away. As the romance fades in the war-ripped darkness of his psyche, after Rick and his two brothers are born, life continued, hard and sad.

It continued even after the old man, Charlie, died in the throes of liver disease, even after his old friend Hootie, the hermit who lived in the corner, went back to the river, and years later, after Ava made the trip back to the little church with the large graveyard where her 11-month-old daughter was buried years earlier. “Not everybody kneels, but everybody dies,” Rick Bragg tells us, as though in refrain.

And finally at the family reunion, where the talk turns to Charlie and his life, the circle will not go unbroken. The family historian, Rick Bragg, sings his song and that of his people in Ava’s Man, and we thank him for sharing those special moments with some very special people with all of us.

 

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

© 2001 Southern Scribe Reviews