Fantasy, Reality, Reviews and Drama Lessons from Gordon A. Long
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Why Are People So Stupid?

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If you really want to get the feel of this book, go and listen to Willy Nelson sing “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Each is a touching tribute to a character type that is fading into myth. Nelson sings about cowboys. Bragg writes about the poor Southern workingman. And wouldn’t you know it, the prize for poetry goes to the book.

Charlie Bundrum was already a mythic hero by the time his grandchild started to research him for this book. Hell, he was a mythic hero while he was still alive. (You’ll pardon my language; one tends to get drawn into the way of speaking that imbues this book with the flavour of its era.) He was a man who gave his all to protect his children, and they believed in him. He could stop the thunder from frightening them. He could keep them from falling when they helped him roof a house.

Charlie had several qualities that made him what he was: he was tough, he loved his children, he was charitable with his fellow man and he was a happy drunk. He had a strong, if individualistic, morality that never wavered. He also had some qualities that were not so nice. He was a fighter and a rebel and a moonshiner and, yes, a drunk. But the one quality that everyone agreed on was that he was a talker. He talked his way into his marriage to a girl “above him.” He talked to everyone. As I read the book, the one disappointment that grew in me was that, because Charlie Bundrum had died before Rick Bragg was born, we never got to hear him speak. And then I realized that we didn’t need to. His legacy to his grandson was his language, which flowed from him through his offspring and onto the pages of this book. The graceful, slow, musical lilt that is the only art that the poor of Ireland and the Deep South can afford.

Don’t expect veracity in this book. It holds a great deal of truth, but it is not the whole truth. For example, Charlie and Ava’s two oldest sons were terrors. They fought each other until they drew blood. They bullied their sisters unmercifully, tying them in sacks and cutting the hair off half their heads. Like much of the dark side of Charlie and Ava's world, we are told about it but never shown it, so it rolls off us like the rough parts in the language.

Much of the pain of the tough life these people led is hidden like the pain Charlie felt and never showed: the pain in his body from his dying liver. The pain in his heart on the rare occasions when he failed to protect his children. Everything in this story is seen through the warm haze of a soft Sunday afternoon poling along the river in a boat made by welding two car bonnets together, with catfish on the line, moonshine in the jar, and conversation ebbing and flowing.

And don’t expect great swells of emotion, conflict, and suspense. When James Cameron was trying to promote the “Titanic” movie, his problem was “a well-known story where the boat sinks and everybody dies in the end.” So it is with "Ava’s Man." We learn early in the story that Rick never new his grandfather, who died young. All the material for the book was gathered through interviews with his family. So, like an evening’s conversation over a jar of moonshine, this narrative rambles and sidetracks and rolls along at an even pace, going nowhere but getting a different job done. The job of entertaining, amusing, and moving us.

This is a touching, gentle elegy to a well-loved man. Recommended for everyone. Five stars out of five. 











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Ava's Man

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