Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bastard Out of Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Trade paperback, 309 pages
Plume, 1992
ISBN-13: 9780452269576
very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
Greenville County, South Carolina, 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 "like a strong woman needs meat between her teeth". 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.
My Thoughts:

Bastard Out of Carolina, a quasi-autobiographical novel by Dorothy Allison, opens up with a quote by James Baldwin: "People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead." Through a first person narrative, Bone Boatwright tells her story about growing up as poor, white trash in South Carolina and suffering from child abuse at the hands of her stepfather. Bastard Out of Carolina has been made into a movie, and I'll admit that I have watched the movie. Both the book and the movie are unforgettable, but also relentlessly depressing and disturbing in their portrayal of a victim of child abuse.
Very Highly Recommended
- but not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.


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

My aunt Alma insists to this day that what happened was in no way Uncle Travis's fault, but I know that the first time I ever saw Uncle Travis sober was when I was seventeen and they had just removed half his stomach along with his liver. I cannot imagine that he hadn't been drinking. There's no question in my mind but that they had all been drinking... pg. 2

As for the name of the father, Granny refused to speak it after she had run him out of town for messing with her daughter, and Aunt Ruth had never been sure of his last name anyway. They tried to get away with just scribbling something down, but if the hospital didn't mind how a baby's middle name was spelled, they were definite about having a father's last name. So Granny gave one and Ruth gave another, the clerk got mad, and there I was - certified a bastard by the state of South Carolina. pg. 3

"Nothing else will ever hit you this hard," she promised.... "Now you look like a Boatwright," she said. "Now you got the look. You're as old as you're ever gonna get, girl. This is the way you'll look till you die." pg. 8

Greenville, South Carolina, in 1955 was the most beautiful place in the world. Black walnut trees dropped their green-black fuzzy bulbs on Aunt Ruth's matted lawn, past where their knotty roots rose up out of the ground like elbows and knees of dirty children suntanned dark and covered with scars. Weeping willows marched across the yard, following every wandering stream and ditch, their long whiplike fronds making tents that sheltered sweet-smelling beds of clover. pg. 17

People talked about Glen's temper and his hands. He didn't drink, didn't mess around, didn't even talk dirty, but the air around him seemed to hum with vibration and his hands were enormous. They hung like baseball mitts at the end of his short, tight-muscled arms. On his slender, small-boned frame, they were startling, incongruous, constantly in motion, and the only evidence of just how strong he was. pg. 35

Maybelle was not so generous. "Yeah, Glen loves Anney. He loved her like a gambler loves a fast racehorse or a desperate man loves whiskey. That kind of love eats a man up. I don't trust that boy, don't want our Anney marrying him."
"But Anney loves Glen," Alma told Maybelle impatiently. "That's the thing you ought to be thinking about. She needs him, needs him like a starving woman needs meat between her teeth, and I an't gonna let nobody take this away from her. Come on, Maybelle, you know there an't no way to say what's gonna happen between a man and a woman...." pg. 41

Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies. pg. 248

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