All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg

all overRick Bragg’s first book is a memoir of his own life, his upbringing and the road to a successful journalism career with the New York Times, complete even with a Pulitzer. It’s also the story of his family: his father, almost completely absent from Bragg’s life and from the book; his mother, the driving force of grace and hard work and love; his brothers; his people from poor rural Alabama. It’s a beautiful book, humbly honest, piercingly devoted to Momma, and redolent with smells and tastes and sights and sounds. As a way of honoring those he wants to remember and honor – centrally his mother – I think it’s devastatingly effective. It’s also a fine piece of writing, triumphantly fine, and a fascinating story.

People are often driven, with a book like this that is so securely rooted in such a unique place, to make statements about whether it could have been born of any other place. Me, I don’t feel up for that argument. But if Bragg’s skill had come out of Pennsylvania, he would at least have written a very different book.

I loved learning about and learning to love the place Bragg is from – northeastern Alabama – and I appreciate his understanding of nuance, of complicated feelings, of the possibility for both ugly legacies and beautiful virtues coming from the same place.

I found it interesting, and it kept his story from being unrelievedly gorgeous or unrelievedly painful, in a book so filled with “living and dying and that fragile, shivering place in between,” that he is able simultaneously to show that he has lived a charmed life. This was a new concept to me, of such good and ill luck coming in the same breath. For instance, when Bragg became national correspondent in the South, to the New York Times:

It was a marriage so perfect, in my mind’s eye, that I was almost surprised when I got a cold, or stubbed my toe, or got a parking ticket, because such things do not belong in dreams.

Momma used to drag her middle son, who she called Ricky, up and down the rows of cotton on her sack as she picked. He increased the weight of the load she bore, but she loved him, and his brothers, and she did for them as best she could, and this is the story, among other things, of Bragg doing his best by her in return. It’s a deeply sweet story, and although sometimes gruffly told, he never takes that tone when writing about her.

Bragg’s father, on the other hand, was an alcoholic abuser who left his family defenseless repeatedly and apparently without compunction. He was also a traumatized war veteran who on his deathbed gave his son a touching gift and a story. I said earlier that he’s mostly absent throughout, but his shadow is there.

I can’t do this book justice. It’s too good. Go see for yourself.


Rating: 10 assumptions tested.

3 Responses

  1. […] All Over But the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg – nonfiction […]

  2. […] voice. This element (combined, obviously, with place and class) reminded me again and again of Rick Bragg. Bragg’s The Prince of Frogtown is on my reading list this semester as well; I hope I […]

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