Demisty Bellinger's Reviews > Bastard Out of Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
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's review
Jun 23, 2008

liked it
Recommended to Demisty by: Dr. Nick Spencer, a really neat peson.
Recommended for: People who liked _Fried Green Tomatoes_ and working class fiction
Read in August, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Let’s see. It, at first, seemed like a log of a child’s life, growing up in 1950s (60s? hard to tell; try to figure it out via the music) South Carolina. All the trials and tribulations of growing up in a single family household, crazy extended family, young mother, et cetera. Her mother marries then is widowed (I think this is all before the mother is 21), marries again to a man that beats and molests Ruth Anne, nicknamed Bone -- narr and our hero -- repeatedly. The molestation is silent almost throughout, but the beatings are found out relatively early by the Bone's mother when Bone has to go to the hospital. Her mother knows, but won’t let on to her roughneck bros and sisters. They find out, though, and beat the hell out of Glen (the step daddy) for beating her.

A few things I liked:
The candid look at childhood sexuality, masturbation, and rape fantasies. I liked how they were only described and not explored. In that way, it stayed in Bone’s voice of growing child and not a doddering adult therapy session. That is to say that the style of the book isn’t written childishly, it is only to say that Bone only allows herself to reminisce with limited knowledge. It is true w/masturbation and fantasies as well as with the abuse she receives from her stepfather: we know it wasn’t her fault that she was beaten and molested, the person who is narrating the book – supposedly an adult Bone (I may be stretching that) – knows that it wasn’t her fault, but the 8-12 yr old Bone doesn’t know that! Nicely done.

The vignette style was nice. The immediate family situation was the overarching story, but I loved the little stories that only sometimes clearly added to the rest of the novel. It did mimic growing up: the little episodic adventures only a child can find important and the epic size of events and people in one’s life. There were a lot of red herrings, but I sometimes liked that they were never realized.

Although there were five hundred characters, I liked the characters. I thought they seemed well-developed, enough so that for the most part, I recognized the names when they repeated after chapters-long hiatuses. Some, of course, were more developed than others, but even the brief characters, like the doctor that first discovered Bone’s bruises, stuck out.

I liked that I didn’t know all of the cultural references, but enough so that I knew about what time period the novel took place. I also did not think that there were too many that the novel depended on them, but I sometimes got tired of the lists of gospel and country singers.

Some of the language (some I could not stand) was pure beauty, in all of the rawness and dialect salted with an educated, well-read (and assumingly) Bone’s narrative voice. Some of the language was over the top, but there were a lot of niceties.

I really liked the freedom to be ugly, evil, and mean. That was done well and, often times, done unapologetically.

Some things I didn’t like:
The constant use of the word nigger. I grow very suspect whenever someone uses it so freely behind the guise of art. It [the suspecting feeling] may be unfounded, only there because I’m black, but so what? And I took the whole constant reference to the undesirableness of the niggers dotting the novel here and there and the undesirableness of the Boatwright family, some of their dark hair, and especially Bone’s dark hair, dark ways, brownish skin (bark of a walnut tree it was described as at one point) and that her father has, in a manner of speaking, r-u-n-o-f-t, if not fully black but wholly unliked by Granny, may have had an undesirable amount of nigger in him. Also, Bone seemed to have an affinity to every black soul she came across, however briefly and silently. That was one of the red herrings.

Some of the dialect seemed over-the-top.

Everything seemed affected. Bone’s life from beginning of the novel – the ridiculousness of her mother trying to get that birth certificate righted – to the wholly unrealistic act that ended the book. I don't want to say what happened, but I do want to say, "what the hell was that about?" Made one wonder if, indeed, it was Bone’s fault that Glen would go after her like that. He was already on watch from all of Bone’s roughneck uncles. Didn’t make sense at all, except for that it had to happen to have that particular ending.

It all felt a little flat on purpose. So what? I kept asking. Since there were so many red herrings, so much left to assumption or speculation, it was hard to understand what exactly Dorothy Allison had in mind when writing it. “Look at how hard these poor, Southern, white folks life is,” is what it seemed to say. But who didn’t know that? It's 2008 and a lot of poor Southern white folks have a hard time. And poor Northern white folks, too, for that matter.

Okay, that’s enough of that. I enjoyed all of the music references, and how song, many times, moved the story along. I was really interested to know the lyrics or the music of the songs I don’t know to know what that particular song added to the story. But lately, my obsession has been food. That’s all I tend to write about lately.

I liked the way Allison used food as medium in the book: assuage grief and pain, show (relative) wealth and poverty, good times, bad times, et cetera.

A couple of interesting quotes:

“People don’t do right because of the fear of God or love of him. You do the right thing because the world doesn’t make sense if you don’t.” Annie (Mama) 145

Bone after getting baptized: “It was as if I were mourning the loss of something I had never really had. I sang along with the music and prayed for all I was worth. Jesus’ blood and country music, there had to be something else, something more to hope for. I bit my lip and went back to reading the Book of Revelation, taking comfort in the hope of the apocalypse, God’s retribution on the wicked.” 152

When Aunt Alma goes mad with rage at her husband Wade, Bone thinks: “Women all over Greenville County were going to smash stuff and then sit down to wait for Armageddon or sunrise or something. It sounded like a good idea to me.” 268

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message 1: by Jericha (new) - added it

Jericha This review perfectly sums up my thoughts about the book. Thanks for writing something so nuanced.

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