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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Rick Bragg's Ava's Man is a no-blows-spared slice of life in hardscrabble Alabama and Georgia. Powerful and poignant, it will fire hearts and minds. Bragg's mother, Margaret's, self-sacrifice enabled him to become a prize-winning reporter-writer. Here, chronicling the desperately difficult life of her father (his grandfather), the one-of-a-kind Charlie Bundrum, Bragg also demonstrates what shaped his mother's life.
At 16, Charlie Bundrum faced life in the raw. His father, a moonshiner, was on the run; his mother was dead, her death hastened by a badly knit fractured hip. Beanpole Charlie possessed only the clothes he wore. He couldn't read, but through surviving he learned all he needed to know -- and then some. At 17, he married 16-year-old Ava, the steel-willed daughter of a Bible-bound small-time farmer. The prosperous post-WWI years were too few and their children too many to cushion the Bundrums through the Depression; 21 flits followed, milk cow in tow, landlords in pursuit. Life remained precarious until the 1950s, when rising national prosperity eased the family budget.
Into his searing account of Charlie and Ava's survival, Bragg weaves a history of regional folklore. Asides on cock- and dog-fighting, catfish and cornbread, midwives and birthing, and, not least, moonshine, "likkered" men and brutal sheriffs heighten his tale. Resourcefulness is a powerful subtext. Charlie knew what to do and how to do it. Ironically, drinking cost him his victory. He quit too late, dying at 50 in 1958.
Bragg illuminates the courage and dignity of a man who lived to the full, loved by and loving his own -- tough love though it often was. His full-blooded prose sings through hope, joy, and fear. He confirms that a family deemed dirt-poor can have an enviable wealth of spirit, and their hard-won successes match the gilded prizes of the privileged. (Peter Skinner)
Peter Skinner lives in New York City.