Thursday, May 01, 2014

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Holycrapwow. No other way to say it. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison is hard to read, beautiful to read, and illuminating. And for me it struck very close to my own upbringing, but more on that down below. 
Greenville County, South Carolina, a wild, lush place, is home to the Boatwright family—rough-hewn men who drink hard and shoot up each other's trucks, and indomitable women who marry young and age all too quickly. At the heart of this astonishing novel is Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone, a South Carolina bastard with an annotated birth certificate to tell the tale. Observing everything with the mercilessly keen eye of a child, Bone finds herself caught in a family triangle that will test the loyalty of her mother, Anney. Her stepfather, Daddy Glen, calls Bone "cold as death, mean as a snake, and twice as twisty," yet Anney needs Glen. At first gentle with Bone, Daddy Glen becomes steadily colder and more furious—until their final, harrowing encounter, from which there can be no turning back.
If sexual abuse is a trigger for you...this may not be one to pick up. That said, I expected this book to be vividly horrible to read, but it really wasn't. The abuse takes place over a few instances in the books rather than being a constant. There's also abundant humor and quirkiness provided by Bone's family...specifically her aunts and uncles. They are rogueish and ridiculous and funny but maybe not soooo unusual if you grew up the way I did.

This book took me back to my childhood in such vivid ways. Before cell phones, before streaming TV, before computers and digital STUFF everywhere. While we didn't have a lot of money, we had food on the table and the clothes we needed. There was no abuse in my life. However, those things were around me growing up. I had uncles in trouble with the law, cousins who couldn't leave the cycle of abusive spouses. 

It's hard for many people to understand WHY individuals become stuck in cycles of poverty and abuse. Why some people stay there willingly, and this book humanizes and normalizes those experiences so much. In a way that I find really hard to put into words. 

I grew up on the edge of the digital age. I grew up in a time when it was becoming easy and commonplace to go to college. That's not the case for the characters in this book, and Allison does such a beautiful, admirable job of explaining these characters and allowing us to live within their experiences for a while. The choices some of these folks make are so disappointing, but in their disappointment they are illuminating because it helped me understand how and why they might've done those things. There's rarely a higher compliment I can give an author. To step outside of ourselves is a remarkable thing. Truly.

Pub. Date: January 1992
Publisher: Turtleback Books
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0606191933 
Source: Bought it sooo long ago. 

I actually might be slightly more insightful in my video this time around, so here 'tis.



15 comments:

  1. This is one book that I absolutely know I will adore. I think I'm going to have to add to it my November/December list (because, let's be honest, I probably won't get to it before then)...but I just grabbed a copy not too long ago, so I'm pretty excited about it. Glad your reading is jolted!

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    1. I think you'll fall for this one, too, Shannon! I hope you can get to it later in the year!

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  2. This book is remarkable, amazing, light-giving . . .The author said this book was a hard one to write and we can see why. I'm so glad you loved it as much as I did, Andi.

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    1. I can only imagine. I really need to look into Allison's life a little more and try to watch some of her interviews. Definitely an author I want to know more about. Awesome book!

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  3. This book! I read it in college as part of a women's studies class. How much did you love Aunt Raylene? I just wanted to jump through the pages and hug that woman.

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    1. OMG loved! Loved, loved, loved. So much.

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  4. This book hasn't previously been on my radar, but it looks like it's magnificent. *chucks it at the pile*

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    1. Haha! If your pile is like mine, it'll still be a while. But totally worth digging out of the TBR.

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  5. It truly is a magnificent book, and you are so right about it enabling us "to step out of ourselves" -- the purpose of reading fiction, in my opinion.

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    1. Amen to that! That's definitely why I love fiction so much.

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  6. I live in Greenville but I'm not from here. I should really read this book!

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  7. I am going to read this book because I got the heck out of NC and my name is Allison. Sounds legit.

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  8. The film is also very well done...

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  9. I remember hearing about this back on the Yahoo group list and snagged a copy from one of those traveling book boxes. I finally started it sometime last year (I think!), but couldn't get interested. Now I'm wondering if I should have stuck with it a bit longer.

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  10. This is a book that I've known about for a long time but never felt compelled to read. I think I had this impression of a book that wallowed about in its character's suffering, which is not the best inducement. But what you say about the extended family intrigues me and now it's officially on my (admittedly long) to-read list.

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