Synopses & Reviews
In this final volume of the beloved American saga that began with All Over but the Shoutin' and continued with Ava's Man, Rick Bragg closes his circle of family stories with an unforgettable tale about fathers and sons inspired by his own relationship with his ten-year-old stepson.
He learns, right from the start, that a man who chases a woman with a child is like a dog who chases a car and wins. He discovers that he is unsuited to fatherhood, unsuited to fathering this boy in particular, a boy who does not know how to throw a punch and doesn't need to; a boy accustomed to love and affection rather than violence and neglect; in short, a boy wholly unlike the child Rick once was, and who longs for a relationship with Rick that Rick hasn't the first inkling of how to embark on. With the weight of this new boy tugging at his clothes, Rick sets out to understand his father, his son, and himself.
The Prince of Frogtown documents a mesmerizing journey back in time to the lush Alabama landscape of Rick's youth, to Jacksonville's one-hundred-year-old mill, the town's blight and salvation; and to a troubled, charismatic hustler coming of age in its shadow, Rick's father, a man bound to bring harm even to those he truly loves. And the book documents the unexpected corollary to it, the marvelous journey of Rick's later life: a journey into fatherhood, and toward a child for whom he comes to feel a devotion that staggers him. With candor, insight, tremendous humor, and the remarkable gift for descriptive storytelling on which he made his name, Rick Bragg delivers a brilliant and moving rumination on the lives of boys and men, a poignant reflection on what it means to be a father anda son.
The final volume of Rick Bragg's bestselling and beloved American saga documents a mesmerizing journey back in time to the lush Alabama landscape of Rick's youth, to Jacksonville's one-hundred-year-old mill and to Rick's father, the troubled, charismatic hustler coming of age in its shadow.
Inspired by Rick Bragg's love for his stepson, The Prince of Frogtown also chronicles his own journey into fatherhood, as he learns to avoid the pitfalls of his forebearers. With candor, insight, and tremendous humor, Bragg seamlessly weaves these luminous narrative threads together and delivers an unforgettable rumination about fathers and sons.
About the Author
Rick Bragg is the author of two best-selling books, Ava's Man and All Over but the Shoutin'. He lives in Alabama.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why does Rick Bragg now feel compelled to write about his father, a man he had dismissed as "nothing more than the sledge I used to pound out [his mother's] story of unconditional love" [p. 10-11]?
2. In what ways is Bragg's new stepson, "the boy," different from him? How does Bragg react at first to the boy? How does their relationship change over the course of the book?
3. "The thing that outsiders never understood about old country music, the music derived from Irish ballads and mountain folk songs," Bragg writes, "was that the sadder it was, the better it made you feel. It told you that you were not alone on this miserable rock, not fighting anything special, anything new" [p. 156]. Does reading The Prince of Frogtown have a similar effect? How does Bragg manage to make what is by and large a sad story so much fun to read?
4. In what ways do family history and social history intersect in the life of Charles Bragg? How do working conditions and class divisions in Jacksonville, Alabama, as well as the drinking habits of his own father, affect the kind of man Charles Bragg becomes? What other major events play a decisive role in shaping his character and determining his fate?
5. Bragg writes that everything he knew about being a father was wrong, but what kind of father does he turn out to be? What effect does he have on his stepson?
6. In the Prologue, Bragg writes: "In this book I close the circle of family stories in which my father occupied only a few pages, but lived between every line" [p. 13]. In what ways does The Prince of Frogtown fill out the portrait of Bragg's family life that he began in Ava's Man and further explored in All Over but the Shoutin'? In what ways was Bragg's father a hidden but powerful presence in the earlier books?
7. Why are memoirs about family life so compelling? Why would so many people, from such a wide array of backgrounds, many of them quite different from Bragg's own, find a story about his family so engaging?
8. Bragg says that his father's friend Jack "does not merely tell me he loved my father, he shows me, painting pictures on the dark..." [p. 138]. How does Bragg himself show rather than tell how people feel throughout the book? What are some of the most vivid and emotionally revealing scenes in The Prince of Frogtown?
9. Bragg writes about people who don't often make it into the pages of bestsellers—drinkers and brawlers, people who work in the cotton mills, or cleaning other people's houses, people who are poor but proud and live in towns like Leesburg, Blue Mountain, Piedmont, and Jacksonville, in the foothills of the Appalachians. What makes these people so fascinating to read about? Why do they so seldom appear in the pages of American literature?
10. What does the book as a whole say about fathers and sons? How is Bragg able to become such a good father, in spite of having grown up with a father her barely knew and who was such a terror when he was present?
11. Why does Bragg's mother decide to return to Jacksonville even though the family seems to have created a much better life for themselves in Dallas? Does she make the right decision? What effect does her leaving have on her husband?
12. Charles Bragg at first appears to be a somewhat one-dimensional man-a bad father who mistreats his family and drinks himself to death. How does Bragg create a much more nuanced portrait of his father? How is Charles Bragg remembered by those who knew him better than Bragg did himself? How should he finally be judged?
13. What are some of the funnier moments in The Prince of Frogtown? What makes Rick Bragg's self-deprecating sense of humor so engaging?
14. Near the end of the book, after he fails to secure an early release from prison for his youngest brother, Bragg writes: "I am sick of this, I thought, sick of this cycle, sick of being at the mercy of something as insignificant as a drink of alcohol" [p. 246]. Just how destructive a force has alcohol been in Bragg's family, and in the mill-town where he grew up? What tragedies can be directly linked to alcohol in the book?
15. What makes the ending of The Prince of Frogtown so bittersweet? Why is this way of ending the book so fitting for the story Bragg has told?
"Nothing less than a triumph."
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Rick Bragg's The Prince of Frogtown, the powerful completion of the trilogy that includes the critically acclaimed bestsellers Ava's Man and All Over but the Shoutin'.