I began reading The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg before stumbling on Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge 2008. After a few pages, I put the book aside. I just couldn’t seem to muster enough interest in this story. Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man are at the top of my list of all-time favorite books. Rick Bragg is more than an author--he is a true story teller, and I expected to jump right into his latest book and feel the same way about it. He uses a different technique to tell this particular story, however, so I was put off a little and also disappointed. Once I decided to participate in Maggie’s challenge, I picked the book up again. And, as I said to my husband upon finishing Frogtown, I’m sure glad I did.
Why should we read a book about a derelict dad? Why read about a man who is an alcoholic and mostly absent husband? Is there anything positive, enlightening or even good that can be said about a man who shirked his duties to his family his entire life? Because Charles Bragg was out of his family’s life more than in it, his life could be resurrected and patched together only through the eyes and memories of others. Some of it is good. Some of it will make you hoppin’ mad. But most of what Bragg tells us about his dad’s life is just darn right sad.
Rick Bragg could have written a book about how he felt growing up poor and without his father. Instead he contrasts his rough-and-tumble life growing up poor and fatherless in a box-house, with very little room for all of the people trying to live in it in rural Alabama, with that of his stepson, whose pampered existence consists of two houses full of stuff, bible study classes, video games and gummy worms. Rick Bragg’s attempts to understand, even influence, his stepson’s view of life enable him to gain a different, maybe even better, perspective of his own father’s inability to be a father to him. And that, ultimately, allows him to grow and be a better father to his own son.