Walker Percy once remarked that it is difficult to write about the South without succumbing “to the ghosts of the Old South or the happy hustlers of the new Sunbelt.” Two new books on the South—Rick Bragg’s My Southern Journey and Margaret Eby’s South Toward Home—easily avoid the latter. There’s no fawning over pristine suburbs with adjacent golf courses and shopping centers or breathless praise of waterparks. But they both happily embrace ghosts—not those of the Old South, mind you, but the ghosts of his “people” for Bragg and the spirits of Southern literature for Eby. And why not? After all, what’s wrong with a little feel-good nostalgia?
Not much, perhaps, but not nothing either.
In a way, Bragg has been writing about ghosts his whole life. In All Over But the Shoutin’, first published in 1991, he remembers his impoverished childhood and the love and sacrifices of his mother. It’s a moving portrait notable for Bragg’s refusal to ignore the harshness of life. In Ava’s Man (2001), he tells the story of his mother’s father, a family legend, who did his best to support his seven children in the foothills of the Appalachia during the Great Depression by working odd jobs, bootlegging, or whatever means possible.
My Southern Journey is lighter fare, composed mostly of short reflections (some no longer than a page) on contemporary life in the South. In essays on the art of piddling, the tradition of Sunday lunch, or the experience of a rare winter snowfall, Bragg affects a good ole boy pose, as he often does, and writes with a conversational ease, wisdom, and humor that goes down as smoothly as a mint julep.
In one particularly entertaining piece, Bragg argues that Southerners cannot be trusted with fireworks. “The North had most of the artillery,” he writes, which is why Southerners are fascinated by bottle rockets and unable to use them properly. “I love my people, but you know there is truth in this. Even when we are sober, bad things happen.” In another, he muses on the relatively popular remark that the defining characteristic of Southern literature is not its interest in place or commitment to lost causes but the simple presence of a dead mule. “Southern writers were killing mules even before Faulkner drowned a perfectly good team in the Yoknapatawpha River in As I Lay Dying,” he writes.
The essays that deal with his family—and many of them do—touch on the simpler parts of home life. He remembers long prayers before Sunday lunch and writes about the old skill of his brother in the garden or evenings sitting on the front porch. He recalls playing in the region’s ubiquitous red dirt as a young boy and imagines that the clay has entered into his very bones.
Nostalgia is part of what makes the South the South. As Bragg puts it: “spirits are welcome here.” But it can be a bit thick sometimes in My Southern Journey. Whenever Bragg casts his eye backwards, it’s …read more
Via:: American Conservative
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