‘The place I Come From’ explores difficult relationship with the South
Rick Bragg has a complicated relationship with the American South, which he was born and raised in and which he left for a moment. Even when he was gone, he longed to be home again. Now he is in his ninth book “Where I come from: Stories from the deep south” (button, 256 pages, ★★★ ½ of four).
He loves his homeland of Alabama and the surrounding area, the bona fide parts, and he mainly writes about it: his family, local legends, local food, personal weaknesses, and southern gadgets. He is a son of the south who is not a great raccoon hunter or fisherman. Once he threw and hooked a goat named Ramrod.
He has no use for the rebel flag or for cotillions or swaths of the “new” south populated by “posers” who gas clichés.
He writes about his aunt Jo: “She was not the South of meanness and faint-heartedness, not the political South that longs to turn back time.”
The author picked up some bad habits in his travels elsewhere. When he returns, his older brother Sam, who has never left, watches him when he opens the trunk of his car. Asks Sam, pointing an accusing finger, “What is that?”
“You’re golf clubs,” replies the younger brother, ashamed.
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“Where I Come From” consists of short pieces, mostly two pagers, eclectic nuggets about places and people he knows well. He writes about women with “permanent in kitchen sinks” and men who still carry pocket knives and can repair water pumps. He laments the transition of the steel guitar (among other things) in country music.
He visits Harper Lee and Jerry Lee Lewis and praises Pat Conroy, a friend and colleague from the South who passed away in 2016. He writes about his affair with Tupperware – while acknowledging that his mother preferred old margarine cups and thought “Tupperware” was just showing off. ”
There are consistently longer pieces, and nearly all of the chapters are credited to columns published in Southern Living magazine. The former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist is a regular contributor to Garden & Gun magazine. It makes perfect sense.
The larger parts of southern life are most welcome (the reader is often still hungry when the tidbits end). “Jubilee” is a stunning eight-pager about a rare natural phenomenon in Mobile Bay when, in the summer of an hour or less, fish, crabs, and eels swarm the shallows like some benign Biblical plague, apparently trying to escape their watery home. When the call goes out, the locals rush ashore, clad in whatever they’re carrying, poles and so on. Some of the squirming bounty can simply be scooped up in 5-gallon buckets. Without trying, Bragg explains why people believe in miracles.
Rick Bragg is an imperfect man who sometimes wishes he and the rest of us could be better than us. What he writes about “To Kill a Mockingbird” says: “[It] was a kind of gospel in the north and south that spoke to us through the beauty of history, to be better than us, to live up to our finer natures and not our lower ones, to rise up in our own conscience and not wallow in the crowd. “
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