Monday, April 10, 2006

Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison

(hb; 1992)

From the inside flap:

“Greenville County, South Carolina, is a wild, lush place of black walnut trees and weeping willows, of sweet tea served on shaded porches. It is also the 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 memorable family – and of this astonishing novel – is Ruth Anne Boatwright, called Bone by her family, a South Carolina bastard with an annotated birth certificate to tell the tale.

“Bone knows what Greenville County thinks of her family, and when she’s not defending them passionately, she has to agree: Boatwrights are drunks and thieves, and she’d like nothing more than to escape the life they would make for her. Observing everything with a mercilessly keen eye, Bone sees the legacy of poverty and futility that marks her family’s place in this small Southern town – the fierce pride that erupts in rage and violence; the women who ward off loneliness by having more children; the desperation of itinerant souls who scarcely dare to dream of a better life.

“Bone dreams. She dreams of becoming a gospel singer (despite the fact that she can barely carry a tune), or of living a life out of one of the books she steals from the local library. She dreams of a life not only beyond Greenville but also away from Daddy Glen, the stepfather whose tenderness quickly gives way to a sly, meanspirited jealousy that will test the loyalty of her mother, Anney. The edges of this family triangle are sharp enough to draw blood: 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...”


Told from the first-person perspective of Ruth Anne (aka, “Bone”), this is a heartbreaking, vividly-rendered novel. Author Allison’s scenes are detailed and relatable, especially when the sadness, and later, rage, of the characters (particularly Bone’s) come to the surface, infusing the characters’ actions with a palpable brutality that made me forget that I was reading a book. I was so engrossed in this book that I cursed every time my reading of it was interrupted.

Bastard Out of Carolina isn’t all darkness, though. There’s plenty of love and strength, despite the pervasive poverty and gloom of the Boatwright households, and that’s a major reason why I kept reading this; that, and author Allison creates such actualized characters – even Daddy Glen is not completely evil – that ring true.

Not an easy read (there’s semi-explicit and horrifying depictions of molestation, depression, fury and violence), but highly recommended.

The resulting cable film aired on December 15, 1996.

Jena Malone played Ruth Anne. Jennifer Jason Leigh played Anney Boatwright. Ron Eldard played “Daddy Glen” Waddell. Lyle Lovett played Wade. Christina Ricci played Dee Dee. Michael Rooker played Uncle Earle.

Anjelica Huston directed the film, from a teleplay by Anne Meredith.


megastein said...

This sounds like a worthwhile read. I caught a bit of the movie, but didn't really feel any kinship with it, but your review makes the book intriguing.

Steve said...

My friend, Jennifer Morford (thanks, Jennifer!), recommended this book a couple of years ago; I finally got around to reading it, and was surprised at how... bearable (and entertaining) the read was, considering the subject matter. (I usually shy away from sexual abuse-themed novels, unless it's recommended, or the author is excellent.) So, yeah, I know exactly what you mean -- I had the same reaction when Jennifer mentioned the book. :)

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