Rick Bragg talks about All Over but the Shoutin'
"This is a book about getting even with life.
It is the story of a young woman who absorbed the cruelties of her husband, an alcoholic, haunted Korean War veteran, until she could stand it no more, then gave up her whole life for her children. By picking cotton, cleaning toilets for the gentry, doing worse, she made sure that her three surviving sons would not have to walk around ashamed, in ragged clothes.
In a smaller way it is my story, the boy who climbed up her backbone and made it out of that ring of poverty and ignorance, free and clean. It is about what I did with the life she gave me, and how I tried to repay her, and how I tried--and failed so miserably--to rewrite the past.
The book is set in rural northeastern Alabama, and chronicles a poor, white trash family through three generations. The first third of the book is mostly about her and him, and us, me and my brothers, as babies. It shows the agony of the death of a baby brother who did not have to die, who didn't even get a name.
It also takes us with my father to Korea. He tugged me there, the last time I saw him alive, when I was just 16. The tales of terror he told me there still sit like a broken bottle in my mind.
The second third is about the wonderful life she gave me, the exotic, dark places I went, taking her spirit with me, like a talisman. It takes us to Haiti, to the transvestite hookers in the Village, to death row in Angola, Louisiana.
The last part is the getting even part, where a woman who had never been on a plane, never been higher than a second-story bathroom floor, travels to New York to see her son receive a Pulitzer Prize, and more. It ends with me keeping my promise to buy her a house, a real house, with my bitter victory over my dead father, and my sad defeat to the realization that no amount of brick and mortar will wall up the past, will let us, as a family, start new.
I feature, briefly, an alcoholic brother who seems to have absorbed the demons that killed my father in 1976. And I admit, finally, to having absorbed them myself.
On its lighter side, it is a story of vindication. People speak to my mother now, on the street.
On its darker side, it is all about revenge. Failed revenge."
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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