I read All Over But the Shoutin’ on the recommendation of another Cannonballer, and agree wholeheartedly with his/her review: the beginning of the book fascinated me, and Rick Bragg is kind of a dick.
“One: Don’t kill yourself.
Two: Don’t kill each other.
Three: Try hard not to kill nobody else, but if you have to, better if it ain’t fam’ly.”
Like many other memoirs I’ve read, Rick Bragg was raised by a hard working saint of a mother while his asshole father flitted in and out of their lives, doing much more harm than good. I don’t mean to discount his experiences (or anyone else’s) — it’s just sort of become a genre I’ve read a lot of lately. I do find it interesting that Rick and his two brothers sort of make up a spectrum of what happens to kids like that: his older brother became a hardworking, honest man; his younger brother followed in his father’s footsteps; and Rick fell kind of in between — got a job and works hard at it, but still a troublemaker/womanizer.
The true star of this memoir is Bragg’s mother — she raised her boys with next to nothing, forgoing her own needs to make sure they had food, clothing and an education. She occasionally leaned on family for help, but primarily relied on only herself. She certainly couldn’t rely on her husband, despite the fact that she obviously still had hope for him, as he merely appeared to take her money and a bit more of her spirit.
After the section with Bragg’s mother ends, he focuses on his own career as a writer. He wrote a lot about people with hard backgrounds like his own — lots of tragic deaths and stories about poverty. Meanwhile, he moves from city to city, often breaking someone’s heart in the meantime, and lying to his mother about his own life (he only tells her the good stuff — which was a very small part of his experiences). While he obviously did well for himself, getting a good job and moving himself (and eventually his mother) out of poverty, it still hurt a bit to see the ways in which he continued to resemble his father.