41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2001
I fell in love with Rick Bragg's writing in All Over but the Shoutin' and didn't think he could ever surpass it. I was very wrong. I started Ava's Man yesterday afternoon and didn't stop till I was finished. With the story of his mother in Shoutin I learned how it was to grow up in the south with his mother, 3 brothers and an alcoholic father who was never around. I wondered at the time where his mother got her backbone from and in Ava's Man I found out. His maternal grandfather, Charles Bundrum, was a true man of the south. He raised 7 children during the depression with little or no money and he raised them all solid. He had to move his family 21 times to keep one step ahead of poverty. He worked where ever there was work and he made moonshine. He lived his life as a man and loved his family. Charles could have been an angry man but , he wasn't. He was a legend in his own time and I am so glad that Mr Bragg took the time to tell his story. This is a great piece of southeren literature with almost lyrical prose that will be very hard to forget.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2002
As impossible as it may seem, Rick Bragg's soaring, compelling and inspiring "Ava's Man," his account of the life and time of his maternal grandfather, eclipses "All Over but the Shoutin.'" I find it difficult to describe the impact this astounding memoir had on me; I can honestly tell you that I have never wept or laughed (often simultaneously) over the pages of a book as I did while reading "Ava's Man." This work contains more raw material on what life should mean to us and how to live that life than most undergraduate educations. Through handsomely crafted anecdotes, Bragg has constructed a unique homage -- to a person, place and time which have passed from the American scene. As we learn who Charlie Bundrum was, what motivated him and how deeply he influenced those who loved and respected him, we discover a genuine American archtype by which we can measure our own lives. A memoir Americans will treasure for decades to come, its author has now elevated himself to the highest level of our national letters.
The introduction and epilogue alone richly outline the Charlie Bundrum's essential qualities. A powerful roofer and talented distiller, an angry, violent man who desperately loved and protected his family, a fiercely resilient man who disdained societal restrictions, Charlie Bundrum would be painfully out of place in the modern South. "It is only when you compare him with today...that he seems larger than life. The difference between then and now is his complete lack of shame. He was not ashamed of his clothes, his speech, his life. He not only thrived, he gloried in it."
Rick Bragg describes his grandfather as a man "whose wings never quite fit him." Charlie Bundrum took "giant steps in run-down boots" during the Great Depression, a time of genuine, near desperate want in the rural South. As a child, Bundrum grew up "in hateful poverty, fought it all his life and died with nothing but a family that worshiped him and a name that glows like new money." Though he moved his family over twenty times during the Depression, his influence on this loved ones was absolute. He was so beloved, so missed, "that the mere mention of his death would make [his grown daughters] cry forty-two years after he was preached into the sky."
Rick Bragg's storytelling abilities and extraordinary character sketches draw the reader intimately into the Bundrum family circle. Bragg's metaphors, piquant, homey and authentic, lend a sense of poetry and size. For example, Charlie Bundrum's hands, "finger-crushing, freakishly strong" (he could "bend a ten-penny nail in his fingers"), and his forearms, "hard as fence posts," symbolize the man. The author's descriptive prose is so pure, so plain, so true, that in places "Ava's Man" emerges as this generation's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men."
The physical setting of the memoir is the hill and river region of northern Alabama and Georgia. There Charles spent an impoverished youth under the supervision of his hard-bitten father, Jimmy Jim, a dominant man who once bit off a foe's finger during a free-for-all. From his father, Charles inherited fearlessness. "Too wild for church, too raggedy for the Kiwanis Club," Charles loved the untamed reaches of the Coosa River; "this was his place, even though he did not own enough of it to fill a snuffbox." As an adult, he lived by his own cardinal rule of fatherhood: "don't let nothin' happen" to the children. The grinding poverty of the Depression only sharpened his instincts; yet the privations of the time would result in the premature death of an infant daughter, the only time his family saw him "whipped" by circumstances.
No saint, the Charlie Bundrum we encounter also has a "hot, dark basement" where genuine anger lives. As a fighter, he hit hard, unrelentingly so and he taught his sons to do the same. He was a considerable drinker, downing a pint of his "likker" for every gallon he lovingly distilled. "His product was clean,pure and safe as Kool-Aid" at a time when others' hooch could kill you. He was a brawler with the law as well, giving and taking licks to officers capable of catching him.
It really doesn't matter where you turn in "Ava's Man;" Charlie Bundrum emerges larger than life. Despite his own family's poverty, he adopts Hootie -- a misshapen, lonely older man -- and protects him with a devotion that is part ferocity and part altruism. Charlies' courage is the stuff of myth; in Bragg's capable hands, Charlie's encounters with bull-headed or misguided adversaries embellish his daughter Margaret's assessment of him: "I knew nothing could ever hurt me with Daddy there. I knew he would never let it happen."
Though Charlie Bundrum is the focus of "Ava's Man," Rick Bragg's gifted writing sustains the narrative. The author's recounting of family tragedies, like the terrifying accidental burning of his mother when she was but a small child, is told with astonishing bluntness. Yet, his language is so profound, so direct, so genuine, so elementally true, that the stuff of the Bundrums' lives become transcendent, metaphorical, universal. "Ava's Man" may become one of the most vital books you will have read in your life.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
And if reading does indeed improve there is a high probability that Rick Bragg will write it. His first book, "All Over But The Shoutin", was a remarkable book and was recognized as such. And when a group of his stories were collected for, "Somebody Told Me", it contained shorter works that can stand with any that have appeared, whether fiction or non-fiction. I don't understand why this new work, "Ava's Man" is touted as a continuation of his first book. It is true the work expands on the history of his Family, but it is more of a prequel, exploring his Grandfather, Rick's Mother, and her Sisters. The distinction is important, for if you are expecting part two of Shoutin, which is not what you will get.
I want to be clear; I am not criticizing this book. There is no one else writing today that I enjoy reading more. This new work is different, and the reasons are clear, the Author almost states as much in his comments.
In his previous work he has written either about his own experiences from a child to the writer he is today, or he was writing his first hand accounts of events as he experienced them. In, "Ava's Man", he is relating a story of a man he never knew as told, by among others, his Mother and his Aunts. The result of his collecting and relating the stories of others requires he be faithful to what they share. This same requirement left him little space to write prose that is totally unique and his own. There were bits of the book where he would introduce an idea, or summarize a lifestyle or a manner of speaking, and the writing was pure Rick Bragg Poetry. But this was not the rule.
For me the following type of sentence is what makes Rick Bragg stand alone, "This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven". Call it prose, poetry or music; it is amazing use of the language.
He said that this book was requested by people who felt he left out his Mother's story. Readers wanted to know where this remarkable woman was from, and who were the Parents that brought her along. Mr. Bragg even states that this is "their" book, the result of people stopping him in Airports and book signings and telling him he shortchanged his Mama.
The previous two books were both works that I wished there were more than 5 stars to express the talent of this man. This book too is excellent, and well beyond what most writers will ever approach. It also is different, not flawed or weak, just different. Individual readers will decide whether this shade of Rick Bragg is one they like better or less.
I hope he is working on a dozen new books.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2001
I'm a fan of literary journalism who got her hands on an advance copy of AVA'S MAN, and let me tell you, it doesn't disappoint. Told in the same lyrical, easy-going prose as ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTING, this tribute to Bragg's grandfather is like a history lesson of life in the true South at the first half of this century. As a southerner, I've almost given up on southern writers, who produce a life that neither I nor my parents even recognize, but about three pages into this book, I told my husband: "This is the real thing." With no trace of sentimentality and no glorification of violence, Bragg tells a story so honest and unvarnished that it could really be any of our grandfathers. In fact, half way through I became convinced we were long-lost cousins, so close and personal were his stories, and predict that when the book arrives in the stores in August, that will the universal reaction. In a time in our history when all that is southern seems to be slipping away, Rick Bragg relights an old flame. We're lucky to have him.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2001
I can't recommend this book highly enough. My husband and I listened to the audiobook, read by Bragg himself, while driving through rural Virginia to a weekend cabin. I thought it would be a nice way to pass the time on the road, but then neither of us wanted to get out of the car when we arrived. We hooked up an old tape player and sat by the fire for hours, lost in the world of Charlie Bundrum, Ava's man. I hated to have it end. I now intend to read the book, since the audio version is abridged, and I want to devour whatever parts were left out -- but I loved hearing Bragg's melodious voice tell the story and recommend the audio version highly. I am astouned at the artistry and eloquence of a writer as young as Bragg, who has the sagacity of someone way beyond his years.
"Ava's Man" is a brilliant example of the universal told through the particular, and although this is Bragg's family's story, it is the story of a whole people.
Now I'm going to go find everything Rick Bragg has written, and then give this book to everyone I know. Wow.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2001
I read all of the reviews listed online and saw nary a single Southern reviewer. I think this speaks to the fact that the Southern experience is as universal as it is unique. I love that these other folks were able to appreciate the beauty, triumph, and truth of Rick Bragg's Depression-Era South. However, I take ownership of that world. Not that I was alive during the depression. I am alive in the South created post-Depression. The South that to this day struggles to find its way in the world economy. It is my world. The world of my family. I can visualize Mr. Bragg's family because I know them. Not literally. Figuratively, in the sense that they are so many Southerners that I come into contact with daily. My people just have slightly different names and live in a different Southern town. I loved Ava's man. I wanted him to be related to me. I want Rick Bragg's mama and brother Sam to be customers in my drugstore. I want them to be people that I run into at the grocery store and stop to talk to for a few minutes before heading to the frozen food section. But, wait. They are all of those things already. It's just that the folks I know are slight variations of Rick Bragg's family. I think this is the strength of Rick Bragg's writing. His writing is a window into a world. And he loves that world as much as I do. It's a world that I think any reader would love to visit. Heck, I'll just say it. It's a world that I think any reader would love to LIVE in!!!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2001
In his first book, All Over But the Shoutin', Rick Bragg wrote about growing up desperately poor in the northeastern Alabama foothills, and about his mother's courageous struggle to keep the family together in spite of a hard-drinking, absentee husband and the condescension of so many "higher class" neighbors. In Ava's Man, Bragg goes back even further in the family history, to his own mother's childhood and the figure who had almost mythical stature in the family: her father, Braggs' grandfather, who died a year before Bragg was born and whose life he has painstakingly reconstructed through the stories of surviving family and friends. Charlie Bundrum was a roofer and carpenter by trade, though he was also a fisherman and banjo picker and buck dancer and maker of illegal whiskey ("the fines likker on either side of the state line"). Bundrum was, in many ways, like other Appalachian men of his generation. He regularly came home drunk, got into fights, and had run-ins with the law. But he had a devotion to his children that was extraordinary in any age and any culture. Not just the kind of devotion that kept him working any job he could to feed his kids, but a real tenderness and a fierce protectiveness that gave the family a sense of stability otherwise sorely lacking in their peripatetic Depression-era existence. Bragg is careful not to deify Charlie. He's a flawed and fallible man, but one who happens to be more vital, and more loving, than most.
Charlie Bundrum is also part of an Appalachian culture that's virtually disappeared. Bragg poignantly describes the changes that began creeping over the wild Alabama and Georgia hills as early as the 1940s: the highways and paved roads, the dams, the encroaching beaurocratization that meant a man could no longer outrun the police and disappear into the woods.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2004
I was born and raised in the very woods and mountains Ricky Bragg writes of, and he makes them seem new and magical even though I've seen them every day of my life.
I worked in a Textile Plant fresh out of high school and didn't make much, but once a month I went to Salvation Army to buy 25 cent books, and I found "All Over but The Shoutin" and knew I'd never find a author so close to home.
Ava's Man, made me cry and curse and run to my Daddy when I needed to know which river or road Ricky was talking about, and my Daddy would alwasy swell up and explain to me where it was and add a short story about it.
This book isn't a fancy story about huge white houses and sprawling orchards, its a simple book about a simple man that would other wise be forgotten.
Charlie reminds me of my Daddy, and my Paw Paw and his Daddy before.
A dying breed of men with strong work ethics and big hearts, and a taste for the likker.
My Daddys eyes are bad and he cant read, but he enjoyed the pages I read to him, and my family would ask me to copy pages and we would all sit around and agree with Bragg on holidays.
Maybe it sounds lame, but this book brought my family together.
With his Cracklin bread and c'modity cheese. The likker and catfish, and of course the small strong women with hands as rough as a man and a tongue twice as sharp.
If you want to know the ways of Alabama, and the culture we pass down, read this book, slide into the slang and enjoy yourself...I know I did.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2002
When Rick Bragg started to ask his great aunts and others about his grandfather (who died before his birth), the responses tended to involve tears. That fact helped to compel Bragg to find out more about this beloved man. Charlie Bundrum, his maternal grandfather, was a Depression roofer, fisherman, moonshine cooker, and father of Bragg's aunts and uncles. He lived in hard times and yet treated people justly. He was so angered by the constant bullying of a hermit by a group of men that he took the man in (Hootie) and made him part of the family. Such a decent person and backwoods legend was he that when he passed away, lines of vehicles stretched along the road to the cemetery.
Successfully raising a large family during the Depression would have been enough to grant the man sainthood status, but Bragg does a magnificent job of outlining the complexities of making ends meet - to the extent that hunger was at the door for many years. He never denies the reader the opportunity to see his grandfather's faults and yet he never apologizes for them or excuses them away. He is careful to describe the love Charlie had for his wife and particularly his daughters without making it ever maudlin or treacle-y. He does his grandfather a great justice by having done his best research and found out, to the heart, what the man was like. It is always a shame to lose a grandfather before you have a chance to know and love him - but Rick Bragg has done a great job of finding, knowing and loving his.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2001
I loved the spirit and the characters in this book. Although not from the South, much of it reminded me of stories I heard about my grandmother and her husband during the same era. Mr. Bragg's writing takes you right down Soth; his prose is eloquent. I felt like I was in his truck, fishing with them, in the various cabins, or up on the roof with Charlie. I especially appreciated the way people like Hootie were adopted along the way while the family unit remained strong and close. My grandmom was always letting someone stay with her during the war. She took in many children cared for them and loved them so their mothers could work in the factories during the war. What a wonderful story, Ava's Man, is about a strong man who supported his family in various ways while maintaining his own uniqueness and integrity. His spirit lives on, and his family has survived and thrived. Although, Mr. Bragg said he never met his grandpop, I believe in some medium, in some spiritual way he has.