Friday, April 3, 2009

A manly melange

I hate the Wizards more than Captain America hates communists. It’s Friday. Welcome back to the melange.

I read two books this week. Rick Bragg’s “The Prince of Frogtown” and Bob Feller’s “Blue Book of Wisdom.” Their full reviews will appear in the paper Sunday and April 7, respectively. (It made sense for the Feller review to coincide with Indians opening day.)

Here’s a web-only preview of the Bragg review:

Many men reach an age when they resent their father for either setting the bar too high or too low.

Either their dad never missed a ball game and taught them how to fish or shave; or he drank, couldn’t keep a job and disappeared whenever the police chief visited. Either way, the son feels cheated.

“The Prince of Frogtown” is the story of how Rick Bragg forgave his father for being the latter type.

Bragg has been working the fertile ground of his family history for a while.

“Frogtown” treads the same ’Bama-bred-and-born territory as his previous family histories, “All Over but the Shoutin’” and “Ava’s Man.” If Bragg wasn’t so funny or pained or honest, it might suffer from sameness. Yes, he does hit some of the same notes he has sung before. (There are a lot of big-hearted, blue-collar people in Alabama who can’t read. We get it.) But the song is still sweet and sad.

And, as Bragg explains, the sad songs are the ones that make you feel best.

Charles Bragg was a drinker. He got it from his father and passed it on to at least one of his three sons. He died of tuberculosis, alone.

Rick Bragg spent most of his life convinced that his father was the bad guy. He might be a sympathetic villain, but he’s still the guy who abandoned his wife and children, killed a family pet in the dog-fighting ring and drank the family broke.

On his best days, Bragg felt pity for the stranger that fathered him. More often, he felt anger.

Then he married a woman with sons and became a stepfather. His own paternal adventures forced him to reassess his dad.

“Over a lifetime I have known a lot of men in prisons, men who will spend their eternity paying for their worst minute on earth ... You do not have to forgive such men, ever, that minute. You can lock them away for it, put them to death for it, and spend your eternity cursing their name,” Bragg writes. “It is not all they are.”

“Frogtown” is a man tale. It’s a story about dads, sons and punching someone to prove you’re not chicken. It’s a story about drinking someone until you think fighting naked is a valid strategy. It’s also about forgiveness and junk like that.

I don’t like Bragg’s journalistic ethics (as I noted in a previous blog) but I cannot deny his skill. I rate “Frogtown” as: Celebrity guest appearances on sitcoms. It bordered on Delonte West YouTube Interviews, but my dislike for the author’s previous actions interfered with his score. (Before someone calls that unfair, I would never even review a Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair book.)

Bragg’s man story got me thinking. What happened to all the alpha male authors? Where are the Hemingways and Mailers? Not to get all Chuck Palahnniuk on everybody, but is the postmodern male writer a wuss?

Authors don’t travel to other countries to help fight their wars. They don’t punch each other on talk shows. They don’t get interrogated by Chilean dictators like Roberto Bolaño. I miss the alcoholics who can’t write without a pack of Lucky Strikes and glass of bourbon.

I’m not saying every man needs to be a snorting alpha male, but I like variety. I feel like there is no one left to inherit the mantle. No one who mixes a writer’s eye with a boxer’s hand.

Finally, I want to thank Betty, Ruth and Sarah for their identical input. Sure, it’s probably one guy from Nigeria spamming the blog, but I’ll take whatever comments I can get.


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