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

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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