This is a memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg about his life growing up poor, and I mean really, really, poor in the south, in the Alabama foothills of Appalachia.  His father was an abusive alcoholic, probably suffering from PTSD after his stint in North Korea, and his mother raised the three boys mostly alone, and mostly on money earned picking cotton, and ironing, etc.  It was a hard scrabble existence, the kind that either makes you or breaks you.

It made Rick, as he pursued his love of journalism, broke his younger brother who became a ne’er-do-well  alcoholic, and created a hard-working man, responsible and dependable but never prosperous of his older brother.

I wasn’t in love with this book.  The style waffled between humble brags, barely concealed vilification of his father, and almost saint-like worship of his mother.  He finally saved up enough money over the years to buy his mother a home,  which it seems tuned out to be a four-bedroom split level on an acre and a third.  Where she lived alone.  Eye rolling here.  But until that time, in spite of his adoration, yada yada yada, she still lived in a tiny shack and had no money, except what little he sent her every once in a while.  So, yeah, that big split level?  Too much, too late.

He has been praised for his poetic style, but for me, it felt a bit precious, you know, worked at.  But there was some fine writing, and some serious southern story-telling.  But it is tainted for me by his firing (OK he resigned under pressure)  from the New York Times in 2003 for writing a story that was basically written by an unpaid and uncredited intern.  One of those deals where the reporter flies in to a city for a short time to get the location dateline, then leaves and writes the article based on others’ info.  There was quite a controversy over this at the time.  It seemed right in keeping with also the barely concealed condensation and sense of superiority that flows through the book.  And An Ego Runs Through It.

So, bottom line, the writing itself, qua writing, is fine, as it should be coming from a Pulitzer Prize winner.  It is the content, and the agenda that grates.

But many people really loved the book, so keep in mind this is only my opinion, which is worth exactly what you paid for it.



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