R86. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Year Published: 1992
Pages: 309

First Sentence: I've been called Bone all my life, but my name's Ruth Anne.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison | Two Hectobooks


Review:
Wow wow wow. Bastard Out of Carolina was easily one of the most harrowing reading experiences of my entire life and also proof that The List should've actually included material from the entire 20th century.

This is the story of Bone (actual name: Ruth Anne). She's born a bastard in the days when that label still meant something, to a teen mom in South Carolina. For the first part of her life, she lives with her mother's notoriously white trash, rowdy family, the Boatwrights. Her mother marries a man long enough to end up with another daughter, Reese, before her husband is killed in a car accident. For several years, Bone and her mother and sister live with the Boatwrights again, until the man who will become her "Daddy Glen" arrives on the scene.

It's not long before Daddy Glen begins to abuse Bone, although he doesn't do anything to Reese or the girls' mother, besides being a total loser.

Dorothy Allison writes with a sort of fevered immediacy that made it hard to put this book down. I worried about Bone, and I felt at home with her as my guide to her various Boatwright aunts and uncles. I don't know much about Allison but I do know that this book is semi-autobiographical. I have to say that I really hope it's not as autobiographical as it seems like it might be.

I'm not going to get deep into the further events of the plot, just know that the content of this book includes graphic depictions of multiple kinds of abuse. The book is mostly about poverty and its fallout, but it's also extremely concerned with different kinds of relationships and how abuse and alcoholism and illness can corrupt those relationships. This is a rare book where the supporting cast feels just as vivid as the main character and I loved all of Bone's aunts and uncles through her eyes. This is why I say it's about all kinds of relationships. Because Bone's uncles are violent men, and yet her relationships with them feel safe compared to what she deals with from Daddy Glen. The Boatwright men may be violent, but they're not child abusers.

The book is also about men and women, how they need each other and use each other. What's going on between Bone's mother and Daddy Glen is a perfect example of this. Allison humanizes Daddy Glen even though he's a total snake. Bone's mother puts him through his paces before she begins a relationship with him but then becomes dependent on her daughter's abuser, not just financially but also emotionally. The push and pull comes to a shocking but not altogether unexpected climax.

Not only did I struggle to put this book down while I read it, I'm going to carry it and its ending with me for a long time. It's yet another book that really opened my eyes to the struggles and degradations of poverty and the privilege I have. 

(The way this struck me, in comparison with my ambivalence toward To the Lighthouse last week, has solidified my opinion that I just really didn't like that one very much.)
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Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.
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Current Distractions, June 2020 Edition

I have to say, June hasn't been a great month. I've still been putting in way more overtime at work than I'd like (hopefully coming to the end of that soon) and the weather hasn't been great. Those two things have kept me indoors way more than I'd like and I'm just really tired as well.

On the plus side, I've gone swimming at a nearby lake a couple of times.

Hopefully July will be a significantly better month, even though I do need to buckle down and put in a bunch more overtime over the next few days.

Watching
American Vandal
The Adjustment Bureau
Triple Threat
Whiplash

Listening
Endless episodes of The Babysitter's Club Club

Playing
Control (the Foundation expansion)

15. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Year Published: 1927
Pages: 200
First Sentence: ‘Yes, of course, if it’s fine to-morrow,’ said Mrs Ramsay.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)



Review:

When I first started this project, way back in the mists of time, my gimmick was that as someone with a technical background and no literary sacred cows, I'd be able to review the books on The List honestly. I now find myself, many years and books later, having to express an opinion about Virginia Woolf for the first time and I am struggling.

The last book on The List written by a woman, prior to To the Lighthouse, was The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, but before that was Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence at #58. After such a long drought of women writers, and considering how poorly I've reviewed some of the other List books by women, and considering the author, I really wanted to love To the Lighthouse.

And I'm afraid I have to admit that I didn't.

To the Lighthouse is the amorphous tale of the Ramsay family and some of their hangers on, who are at a vacation home in some part of England. Mr Ramsay is a philosopher of some kind and kind of an ass. Mrs Ramsay is his domestic goddess of a wife, mother of many children, gardener, reader of stories. The book flits between a multitude of characters' perspectives and interior monologues. Nothing exactly happens. During the very best section, "Time Passes," well, time passes, and it passes in a way that forces the reader to consider their relationships, their home places, and their mortality.

This is my first time reading Woolf and I'm as impressed and awed as I hoped I'd be by her insight into her characters and their ambivalent experiences in the world. There are so many emotions crammed into this short book.

But here's the thing, and maybe it's a me problem and not a Woolf problem, but I found myself not really caring at all about most of it. I'm a reader who needs at least the semblance of a plot. Being dropped into the midst of this family in medias res was one thing, but then being uprooted and left to continue caring was... difficult when there was no sense of rising action. I get it: time passed, what was once can never be again. I care about that sentiment more now than ever, but I was bored by large chunks of this book.

I guess I have a sacred cow or two after all because I hate to find myself saying this about Virginia Woolf's only book to make it onto The List. I do want to try out more of her work, because her level of human insight is very impressive.

The books I don't care that much about either way are always the hardest ones to review. This is close to being worth a read for the shortest part of it ("Time Passes," like I said), except that I already reprimanded Henry Miller for expressing the sentiment that any book is worth reading if there's just one good part in it.