Rick Bragg’s, The Prince of Frogtown


I am a sucker for a good father story.

By that I mean an enjoyable story about the experience of fatherhood, whether its told from the point of view of the fathered or the father. Certainly I don’t mean the father has to be good. Terrible fathers are some of the most compelling portraits of fatherhood in literature today, from hopeless alcoholics (Angela’s Ashes) to clinging despots (This Boy’s Life). The Prince of Frogtown is about Rick Bragg’s father, Charles Bragg, a no good father for sure.

Right off the bat, Bragg tells us he has written about his father in two earlier memoirs (neither of which I have read). If he is candid about having previously dismissed his father as a drunken lout, his reasons for revisiting him in the current work are less clear. We learn that a 10 year-old stepson has come into the author’s life and he wants… what? Reconciliation? Redemption? To his credit, Bragg never absolves his father, but he does paint a complicated picture of the circumstances that contributed to his downfall.

What drives this story is Bragg’s relationship with his stepson. What a pleasure to watch it unfold: The demanding, macho Bragg tries hard to relate to a boy of the 90s, who isn’t as invested in the same boyhood ethos that Bragg has long held in such high esteem. Bragg inserts these short vignettes about himself and the boy between the longer chapters that document his own father’s circumstances. Those longer chapters suffer somewhat from coming to us second hand and from so long ago (the older Bragg died young in the 70s, the author hardly knew him).

Despite making up the bulk of the book, those longer chapters work best as context for the relationship between author and stepson. And the beauty of that relationship is how man and child move slowly toward one another: the boy picking up some of those old school boyhood values to impress the adult, who in turn ends up having to discard his reverence for some of those very same values to accept the boy.

A little bit of give, a little bit of take: That’s mostly what fatherhood is all about.

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4 thoughts on “Rick Bragg’s, The Prince of Frogtown

  1. It’s always a joy to read about a stepfather, stepson relationship- coming together, even with the good and the bad- that’s life.
    Shirley Cress Dudley

  2. Tim Elhajj says:

    I agree that it is satisfying to see this type connection come together. I’d argue it’s a joy to see it happen whatever the makeup of the relationships (biological fathers, stepfathers, or even spiritual fathers).

    That’s a pretty interesting URL for your site. I’m interested in non-traditional family constellations.

  3. Ruth D~ says:

    Good fathering, like good mothering, is independent of blood. So is bad parenting.

    Good review/discussion, Tim. I reviewed a book at the Internet Review of Books about a father and a daughter… The Box From Braunau. Father with emotional scars comes home from WWII and leaves emotional scars on his family. Sounds cliched, but it’s well written.

    Hey, want to review for us sometime?

  4. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thank you, Ruth. I’m so pleased you’ve asked me to review for the IRB. I’d be delighted to work with you on something.

    Looking at the requirements, my only concern is finding a book to read and review that’s as recent as the guidelines require. Typically I get my books from the library and it can take a long time to get one of the new releases. Occasionally I might find something in my reading queue that’s right for IRB, but I’m on a classic kick right now: I just finished Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time, which I found excellent.

    Meanwhile, if there is anything on this site right now that you’d like to post to the IRB, I’d be more than happy to share it with you. My site is yours!

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