Summary and book reviews of Ava's Man by Rick Bragg

Ava's Man

by Rick Bragg

Ava's Man
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2001, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2002, 259 pages

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Book Summary

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All Over but the Shoutin’ continues his personal history of the Deep South with an evocation of his mother’s childhood in the Appalachian foothills during the Great Depression, and the magnificent story of the man who raised her.

Charlie Bundrum was a roofer, a carpenter, a whiskey-maker, a fisherman who knew every inch of the Coosa River, made boats out of car hoods and knew how to pack a wound with brown sugar to stop the blood. He could not read, but he asked his wife, Ava, to read him the paper every day so he would not be ignorant. He was a man who took giant steps in rundown boots, a true hero whom history would otherwise have beem overlooked.

In the decade of the Great Depression, Charlie moved his family twenty-one times, keeping seven children one step ahead of the poverty and starvation that threatened them from every side. He worked at the steel mill when the steel was rolling, or for a side of bacon or a bushel of peaches when it wasn’t. He paid the doctor who delivered his fourth daughter, Margaret -- Bragg’s mother -- with a jar of whiskey. He understood the finer points of the law as it applied to poor people and drinking men; he was a banjo player and a buck dancer who worked off fines when life got a little sideways, and he sang when he was drunk, where other men fought or cussed. He had a talent for living.

His children revered him. When he died, cars lined the blacktop for more than a mile.

Rick Bragg has built a soaring monument to the grandfather he never knew -- a father who stood by his family in hard times and left a backwoods legend behind -- in a book that blazes with his love for his family, and for a particular stretch of dirt road along the Alabama-Georgia border. A powerfully intimate piece of American history as it was experienced by the working people of the Deep South, a glorious record of a life of character, tenacity and indomitable joy and an unforgettable tribute to a vanishing culture, Ava’s Man is Rick Bragg at his stunning best.

From Chapter One:
The Beatin' of Blackie Lee

The foothills of the Appalachians
The 1930s

Ava met him at a box-lunch auction outside Gadsden, Alabama, when she was barely fifteen, when a skinny boy in freshly washed overalls stepped from the crowd of bidders, pointed to her and said, "I got one dollar, by God." In the evening they danced in the grass to a fiddler and banjo picker, and Ava told all the other girls she was going to marry that boy someday, and she did. But to remind him that he was still hers, after the cotton rows aged her and the babies came, she had to whip a painted woman named Blackie Lee.

Maybe it isn't quite right to say that she whipped her. To whip somebody, down here, means there was an altercation between two people, and somebody, the one still standing, won. This wasn't that. This was a beatin', and it is not a moment that glimmers in family history. But of all the stories I was told of their lives together, this one proves how Ava ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
"Since I never really had a grandfather," Bragg writes in the prologue, "I decided to make me one. . . . I built him up from dirt level, using half-forgotten sayings, half-remembered stories and a few yellowed, brittle, black-and-white photographs that, under the watch of my kin, I handled like diamonds" [p. 10]. The result is a vividly drawn portrait of a man who made a profound and lasting impression on all those who knew him. Charlie Bundrum, the father of Bragg's mother, was a poor, backwoods roofer and sometime maker and seller of moonshine. He was a man who lived all his life in poverty and settled his arguments with his fists—a man so quick he could snatch a squirrel out of a tree, so strong he could throw two ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

A book that flashes with affection and respect for Charlie (Bragg's grandfather) and the vanishing culture he represents, one we will be immensely the poorer for losing.

Library Journal

No one writes about the South like Bragg. He reminds readers that the fabled agrarians weren't the only Southerners, as he refuses to whitewash the bootleggers, violence, and poverty of the Depression-era rural South. Bragg's empathy and humanity shine throughout.

Booklist

What a book this is. Employing the same spare eloquence that marked his previous memoir, Bragg conjures a tall, bone-thin man who worked as a roofer, liked to run a trout line baited with chicken guts across the Coosa River and caught washtubs full of catfish, who made good whiskey in the pines, liked the taste of his own product, and loved to sing, laugh, talk, and buck-dance.

Reader Reviews

Tanis

Bragg paints a vivid picture
Rick Bragg is my new favorite author! He is so talented in bringing the characters to light. I felt a certain closeness to the main character, Charlie, and his family after reading all of their trials and tribulations in the early 20th century ...   Read More

ALeger

Brings a smile to your face and warms your heart.
Growing up in West Virginia where coal miners and their families struggled to make a living, I loved Bragg's descriptions of the country surrounding and the lives of the poor. The respect for the south and the struggle of the poor is in every ...   Read More

lauren

lu's review
I really liked this book. We read it in my class at school. It was great! I like how he gives a great description of how it really is in the south!!

Arlene Glenn Townsend

Personal
Rick Bragg has documented actual facts of life in some parts of the South, as so many children knew it to be and he has the talent to express. Having to exist on what you could grub from the dirt or sell what was made from corn or rye, shows a type ...   Read More

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