Elaine's Reviews > Bastard Out of Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
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's review
Jul 03, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: mainstreamlitfic

** spoiler alert ** Set in Greenville, Carolina, sometime in the late '50s, this colorful, vibrant, heart-crushing narrative is a must-read.

It's so passe nowadays to handle themes like "sexual abuse", family violence, mother-daughter betrayal unless you can shine new light on the subjects -- overdone and overfamiliar, it has now become a big insensitive cliche or a melodramatic spin-sob story. But in Ms. Allison's hands, even reading it today in the background of all that's overdone and overfamiliar, this story engages, propels, carries with it a certain 'magic'. It's filled with colorful relatives, violent relatives, but it's also filled with gospel music, country music, capers and candy-adventures!

Part of the secret of that magic, I believe, is Ruth Anne ("Bone") herself, our spirited protagonist. In the deep grip of sexual abuse, she bears all the scars of the victimized -- fear, inability to get herself out of danger, an enervated passivity towards her assaulter, confusion, anger, shame, collusion with his acts by her silence. And yet, Ms. Allison renders this portrait of the "victim" in superb contrast to the raging energy and creativity of Ruth Anne. She's simply remarkable -- this twelve year Southern girl. She's feisty, scary, cold, loving, funny, loves gospel music; she's polite, helpful, good with her hands, and you just love her. To read what happens to her page after page literally cracks your heart open and I find myself begging in my mind with the author (even though it's far too late!) "Please don't let her get raped". She does get raped and just when you think you can't handle any more sadness, her mother's betrayal at the very end is harrowing, poignant, and paints such a sad realization for us of what certain women would do for love. Ms. Allison paints this with such a humane hand that you simply cannot hate the mother, just like Bone doesn't.

This is not a story for the weak-hearted; but even though what you fear most comes to pass, Ms. Allison does not leave us without any hope of redemption. We see Ruth Anne stand up tall even after her mother's desertion; we see her mother's parting gift, and my heart cracks wide open all over again.
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badfae I don't hate her mother, even though it would be easy to. I think I pity her more than anything, for not being able to see her way out or have the strength to do what's right. But what's sad is it affects other people, and they are the ones who will have to clean up her mess.

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