A beautiful book, compellingly written with authenticity and love and wit, about the grandfather Rick Bragg never knew but who was a larger-than-life figure in every way. Charlie Bundrum couldn’t read, was often two steps ahead of the law, was a moonshiner and a drinker, and dragged his family from state to state and shack to shack, but he loved his wife, adored his children, was a rock that everyone could lean on, and worked himself to the bone to keep his family housed and fed during the years of the Great Depression. He was passionate, curious, funny, fearless, a banjo picker and a dancer, a roofer, a carpenter, a fisherman, a defender of the weak, and a genuine salt-of-the-earth hero who brought out hundreds from miles around to revere him at his funeral.
Ava’s Man is actually the sequel to Bragg’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All Over But the Shoutin’, written about his grandmother Ava whom he knew as a child. But despite the success of his first book, Bragg realized that he had really only told half the story. I made the mistake of reading his second book first, but l have the delicious anticipation of reading his first book next and can’t wait. Bragg gives us a unique view from the Appalachian foothills of the deep South, where hardscrabble life didn’t have to mean hard people. I had only recently finished reading Faulkner’s depressingly grim As I Lay Dying, and am grateful to Bragg for restoring my faith that being from the rural south didn’t have to mean being like Anse Bundren and his family.
As Bragg writes at the beginning of his book, “He died in the spring of 1958, one year before I was born. I have never forgiven him for that.” So what the author did was cull the family scrapbooks, surviving memories, and anything else he could to piece together the story of a man so beloved that people couldn’t talk about for him decades after his death because of the pain of remembering the loss. Wouldn’t we all like to be remembered like that?