Synopses & Reviews
With the same emotional generosity and effortlessly compelling storytelling that made All Over But the Shoutin
a national bestseller, Rick Bragg continues his personal history of the Deep South. This time hes writing about his grandfather Charlie Bundrum, a man who died before Bragg was born but left an indelible imprint on the people who loved him. Drawing on their memories, Bragg reconstructs the life of an unlettered roofer who kept food on his familys table through the worst of the Great Depression; a moonshiner who drank exactly one pint for every gallon he sold; an unregenerate brawler, who could sit for hours with a baby in the crook of his arm.
In telling Charlies story, Bragg conjures up the backwoods hamlets of Georgia and Alabama in the years when the roads were still dirt and real men never cussed in front of ladies. A masterly family chronicle and a human portrait so vivid you can smell the cornbread and whiskey, Avas Man is unforgettable.
About the Author
Rick Bragg is the best-selling author of All Over but the Shoutin and Somebody Told Me. A national correspondent for the The New York Times, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1996. He lives in New Orleans.
Reading Group Guide
1) In the prologue, Rick Bragg wonders about his grandfather, “What kind of man was this . . . who is so beloved, so missed, that the mere mention of his death would make [his family] cry forty-two years after he was preached into the sky?” [p. 9] How does the book answer this question? What kind of man is Charlie Bundrum? Why does his memory evoke such powerful emotions in those who knew him?
2) Bragg says that he wrote this story “for a lot of reasons,” one of which was “to give one more glimpse into a vanishing culture” [p. 13]. How does he create a vivid picture of that culture? What does he admire about it? How is it different from “the new South”? What other reasons compelled Bragg to write about a grandfather he never knew?
3) Bragg says that Charlie Bundrum was “blessed with that beautiful, selective morality that we Southerners are famous for. Even as a boy, he thought people who steal were trash, real trash. . . . Yet he saw absolutely nothing wrong with downing a full pint of likker . . . before engaging in a fistfight that sometimes required hospitalization” [p. 53]. What kind of moral code does Charlie live by? Are his frequent acts of violence justifiable? In what sense can Charlie be called a hero?
4) Charlie is a man of great physical strength and courage, but what instances of kindness, generosity, and caring balance the violence and recklessness in his life? How does the inclusion of this kind of behavior in Braggs description create a richer and fuller portrait of the man?
5) In speaking of his grandfathers legacy, Bragg says, “A man like Charlie Bundrum doesnt leave much else, not title or property, not even letters in the attic. Theres just stories, all told second- and thirdhand, as long as somebody remembers” [p. 18]. What is the value of preserving the kind of stories that Bragg gathers in Avas Man?
6) Avas Man is filled with dramatic confrontations and vivid scenes. What episodes stand out the most? What do these episodes reveal about the character of the Bundrum family?
7) In considering his grandfathers drinking, Bragg writes, “I am not trying to excuse it. He did things that he shouldnt have. I guess it takes someone who has outlived a mean drunk to appreciate a kind one” [p. 133]. What does this passage suggest about Braggs personal stake in reconnecting with his grandfather? What kind of portrait does he paint of his own father in Avas Man?
8) Charlie Bundrum “was a man who did the things more civilized men dream they could, who beat one man half to death for throwing a live snake at his son, who shot a large woman with a .410 shotgun when she tried to cut him with a butcher knife, who beat the hell out of two worrisome Georgia highway patrolmen and threw them headfirst out the front door of a beer joint called the Maple on the Hill” [p. 8]. In what ways is Charlie free from the constraints of society? What is the cost of this freedom? Is Bragg right in thinking that Charlies way of living is something that more civilized men envy?
9) Bragg writes that Ava could have had her sister Graces life, a life of relative wealth and comfort, of fine clothes, good food, and travel, instead of a life of rented houses, poverty, and hard labor in the cotton fields. “She could have hated her life,” Bragg admits [p. 153]. Why doesnt she? What does Charlie give her that other men cannot? What kind of woman is she?
10) Why does Charlie take in Hootie? What does this reveal about his character? What does Hootie bring out in Charlie?
11) Bragg writes that Charlie “could charm a bird off a wire” [p. 45]. What are the charms of Braggs own storytelling style? Where else does he use colorful similes? In what ways is his narrative voice perfectly suited to his subject matter?
12) What does Avas Man reveal about how the Great Depression affected people in the Deep South, especially those who lived in the foothills? How did it affect the Bundrums specifically? How are they treated by landlords, sheriffs, and others in positions of power?
13) For centuries, recorded history has largely been the account of those who have had the greatest impact on world events. Why is the history of a man like Charlie Bundrum important? In what ways does it offer a door into American history and culture that more conventional histories cannot provide?
14) In the epilogue, Bragg argues that when compared with the new South, Charlie Bundrum seems larger than life, because of “his complete lack of shame. He was not ashamed of his clothes, his speech, his life. He not only thrived, he gloried in it” [p. 248]. What accounts for Charlies pride? Why is Bragg so proud of him? What does Avas Man suggest about the way in which inner character is more important than external circumstances?
“Grab[s] you from the first sentence . . . [and] stays with you long after you put it down. . . . It is hard to think of a writer who reminds us more forcefully and wonderfully of what people and families are all about.” —The New York Times Book Review
The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups reading of Avas Man, Rick Braggs brilliant story of his grandfathers unique life, the follow-up to his bestselling and deeply affectionate portrait of his mother, All Over but the Shoutin.