By: Rick Bragg
Reviewed by: Perle Champion
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008
With this title, The Prince of Frogtown, one expects a story akin to the tall tales of Uncle Remus, and Rick Bragg does not disappoint. He is a consummate storyteller in the southern tradition of “pull up a chair, and let me tell you about the time….” Here he closes the circle of family stories in which his “father occupied only a few pages, but lived between every line.”
Marrying late, and instantly acquiring a ten-year-old son, prompted Bragg to look at himself as a father, and finally to explore the father he hardly knew as anything more than a drunken caricature. He goes in search of the real man that lived between the lines of his life’s story.
Bragg journeys back and pulls up his chair beside those who remember to hear the stories of his father’s life and times. To those stories, he adds his own recollections.
A vignette, “The Boy,” prefaces each flashback chapter. These vignettes give us glimpses of Bragg as he learns to be a father to the boy. As he awkwardly makes his way in unfamiliar territory, he remarks, “The woman is mad at me a lot. I make her mad, being me. The boy never is. I walk in the door and the boy never seems disappointed in me.”
The two stories running in tandem work well. I enjoyed seeing the Bragg of now in “The Boy” juxtaposed with the Bragg of then, seeing the father he is compared to the father he had.
In the stories of life with his wife and his step-son, we see the tug-of-war between the civil society he now inhabits with the harsh brash past of his and his family’s past.
It is interesting to see him vacillate between accepting the boy with one breath and in the next describing him as one of those boys—the soft, spoiled, privileged ones—he remembers from his youth with disdain.
It is not always because of, but sometimes in spite of our life experiences that we become who we become. It is always a choice. I’m glad Rick Bragg chose to write for his life and share it with us.
The final chapter, “The Circle,” is both preceded and followed by “The Boy” and the story stops on an up note. His mother and brother stand amid wildflowers on their garden’s path. Rick and the boy are flying down the road in the old silver sports car, and we have one last look at Bragg still growing into being a father to the boy.
Perle Champion is a writer, artist, and photographer.
Editor’s note: The Prince of Frogtown will arrive in stores in May. Readers may preorder.