Bastard out of Carolina

by Dorothy Allison

Paper Book, 1992

Status

Available

Publication

New York, N.Y. : Dutton, 1992.

Description

Born an illegitimate child to a young mother, "Bone" grows up poor in South Carolina in the 1950s. When her mother marries, her new stepfather becomes jealous of the powerful bond between mother and daughter.

User reviews

LibraryThing member writestuff
Bastard Out of Carolina is a disturbing novel about a little girl named Ruth Ann - who happens to be illegitimate and surviving in a world of poverty, drunks, petty criminals, and a pedophile whom her mother loves. Allison's writing is good - and it kept me reading this depressing story. But, the story itself made me furious - which may have been Allison's goal.

Years ago I worked as a child care worker with abused girls (mostly the victims of sexual molestation and rape) between the ages of six and thirteen. That job made me completely unsympathetic toward the cycle of abuse and the parents who knowingly put their kids in harms way. In Bastard Out of Carolina, Allison explores the cycle of abuse and demonstrates realistically how abused children grow up with self-hatred and anger...and ultimately become the purveyors of abuse themselves. I found myself empathetic toward Ruth Ann, even as she becomes progressively more disturbed and dangerous. My understanding of her mother, however, was limited. In one particularly horrific scene, we see how she is willing to sacrifice her child for her own selfish needs of love. It made me sick - and it is hard for me to understand how anyone can make the choices this particular mother makes.

The novel provides excellent characterization of Ruth Ann's extended family, including the multitude of Aunts who have their own issues and problems. My frustration, however, was that no one really comes forth to rescue Ruth Ann. Perhaps my anger really stems from how often this is true in real life.

I have a hard time recommending this novel - it is bleak, depressing, and left me with the desire to hurl it out the window because of the anger it triggered. I really hated the ending. But, if you like to read about dysfunctional families and want to read good writing that will conjure up lots of emotion, perhaps you will like the book.
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
This book is so raw, painful, gutsy, vivid and honest it leaves a hole in your heart.

Semi-autobiographical, this is the story of Bone, a child born to southern 'white trash' in Carolina, to a family where illegitimacy, criminality, abuse and hopelessness are a way of life, part of an inevitable cycle that passes from generation to generation.

But this is so much more than yet another survival memoir - this is flawless fiction which I would go so far as to say is of a standard up there with To Kill a Mockingbird (and I don't say that lightly).

Everything in this novel is so vivid. The physical surroundings - the dilapidated houses in the wrong part of town, the dirt ingrained in the window sills, the grassless yards, iced tea on rotting porches, trash floating up the weed encrusted river, the meals of biscuits and gravy, the country music peppering evenings on the porch, the hot days and cool nights. The Boatwright family themselves - the uncles who fall in and out of jobs and jail; the aunts with umpteen kids and no expectations; the forthright granny who pulls no punches; the mother who compartmentalises her love for her child from her love for the man who is destroying that child.

Allison so deftly gets under the skin of the complexities of poverty and abuse, of choiceless existences, of the strength and complications of family love in this environment, of how the impact of all of this can inevitably set out a child's path in life from far too early an age. It's makes for difficult reading in parts - it touches on realities most of us would prefer to sweep under the carpet than visualise, but it's profoundly impacting, bringing the hidden violence of our communities out into the open.

There's no warm, fuzzy feeling by the end of this book - this is a book to immensely respect and appreciate. I don't know about the rest of the world, but it's certainly under the radar in the UK, and most undeservedly so.

5 stars. An immense writing achievement.
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LibraryThing member Muscogulus
I am in awe of this book. It was given to me but sat on my shelf for years, through at least one house move, until I decided this month that I might as well give it away. That's when I opened it and glanced at the first lines.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I am personally grateful to Dorothy Allison for putting in the gigantic labor that it takes to make a story this good — especially one that draws on so much dangerous material from the author’s own life.

Where shall I begin? This is a story about people stuck at the bottom rung of the Greenville, South Carolina class system — surplus people living with shame, confusion, and bottled-up rage, which they often direct against themselves and each other. Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright is born to a 14-year-old mother, Anney, and both daughter and mother grow up fast. Bone sometimes leans on, sometimes strains against the bonds of family. Through her eyes, all the cousins, aunts, uncles, and surrogate fathers are so many unique, wonderful and terrible human beings. Their desire and pain cannot be waved away just because they are “white trash” (a term people still use without even a touch of irony).

Yet the book doesn’t just invert the usual standard of blame and praise; least of all does it preach. Even the people who grin with pleasure over the humiliation of Bone’s people are not allowed to become mere types themselves. Allison invites us to glimpse the souls even of minor characters who seem silly and self-deluding. There’s even a spark of desperate yearning within the vicious Daddy Glen, and we gain searing insight into the way a family instinctively forms a screening hedge around a man who preys on a girl. We also see why Bone cultivates burning hatred and numb meanness as sources of strength and self-protection. But she isn’t allowed to get away with it, not completely, not as long as her demoralized mother, crazy aunts, and drunken uncles keep trying to show their love.

Bastard out of Carolina spells out the closely guarded, unspoken wisdom of a brilliant child outcast, forced too early into adulthood, where she must struggle for a life worth living. I think the book is an amazing, almost miraculous achievement. Allison writes about the physical pain and burning emotions of an exploited child with the knowledge of one who has felt these things herself. She also has the discipline of a great writer, so her passion never gets the best of her plain, fine English. There is no lecturing in this book, and only one or two places where I thought things could possibly be improved on. Aspiring novelists should study this book as a model. There is always enough there to be fully convincing, and never too much.

Still, this is not a book for everyone. Some readers will be disgusted by the frank descriptions of masturbation and sexual fantasy as guilty adolescent pleasures. Even though this is a short novel, some readers will chafe at the time it takes to get to know Bone’s extended family as distinct human beings. A few readers, I expect, will just refuse to admit the upsetting Boatwrights into their imaginations. Instead, they’ll make them wait on the front porch while they summon the thought police to pack them off to allegorical jail. (Those trashy people! How dare they live lives that can’t be summed up with an Aesop moral! Don’t they know they are fictional characters?)

I think everyone who finishes the book will have difficulty forgetting it. Consider yourself warned.

I’m still giving away my copy, as promised. But I expect I’ll have to borrow another one someday for a second reading.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Impressive, depressive, ultimately unsatisfying. This is the story of a young girl’s coming-of-age in a family of “white trash” in which most of the men have been in jail at least once, and most of the women have been victimized by men in one way or another. I grew up with Northeastern PA/NY mountain versions of the Boatwrights. Some of them were just as crazy-mean-ignorant-lawless as many of Allison's characters, but a lot of them were likeable when they weren't being mean, and many of them were just plain decent folks. I liked a couple of the aunts in this book, but could not drum up any sympathy for the narrator, or her mother, another main character. I thought at first it was because I couldn't understand their motivations, but it's more than that. Although I believe this novel is at least semi-autobiographical, and was probably therapeutic for the author to write, the first person narrative is oddly detached and unemotional. There is neither joy nor hope, anguish or despair---just resignation to a lifestyle that ultimately denies the humanity of all its participants. I am also disturbed by any story line that moves the reader to root for a violent outcome; despite the main character’s apparent lack of outrage at her abuser, I found myself wishing somebody would KILL the S.O.B. No good can come of that feeling. Ultimately, I found the mother’s behavior unbelievable, not because I don’t accept that there are women so evil, so desperate or so helpless that they can allow horrible things to happen to their children, but because I did not understand how this particular woman could tolerate the circumstances of her daughter’s life when it was in her power to change some of them.… (more)
LibraryThing member anterastilis
I was flipping through the channels and came across the made-for-tv movie of this book. It was obvious that the movie was pretty far along, so I watched for just a minute and then turned it off. A few days later, a student asked me about the book while I was sitting at the Reference Desk. Not being one to ignore signs as they appear before me, I went and picked up the book from the stacks.

The main character is given the nickname “Bone” and is damned from birth: her mother was single, her father was long gone. She was certified a bastard by the state of Carolina. Anney Boatwright, her mother, fights the stamp on the birth certificate and the stigma that will follow her child. Unable to convince the court, she decides that the way to make her child legitimate is to marry and have her husband adopt Bone. Thus Daddy Glen enters their lives.

This is an absolutely heartbreaking story of abuse and neglect. Abused by Daddy Glen, Bone becomes bitter and hard. She’s nothing but a bastard, nothing but a Boatwright – a family of drunks and criminals. She tries to find solace in religion and books, but can’t escape the horrid reality of home or the thoughts that run through her mind. She has aunts that help to raise her, but never lets them in. The betrayal of her family – unable or unwilling to intervene – is heartbreaking and infuriating.

This is a story of a specific time and place, but somehow Bone’s voice seemed very present. I’m not sorry that I picked this book up. I had an idea of what I was in store for, but I didn’t expect it to affect me quite so much. What is written is powerful. How it is written - the deadpan account from a girl who felt damned and worthless – made it personal.
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LibraryThing member refice
Reading Bastard out of Carolina is like watching someone mistreat a puppy. You cringe, but uncertain as to whether out of pity or outrage.

The novel is set in 1950’s rural South Carolina. The protagonist, Bone, is a child in a large, clannish, coarse family. Her mother Anney winds up marrying outwardly charming but neer-do-well Glen. Glen is resentful and bitter at his own inability to hold a job or live up to anyone’s expectations of him. He vents his anger on Bone, abusing her physically, sexually, and emotionally. In turn, Bone grows thick-skinned and seethes with repressed rage. Compassion for her plight is tempered by unease about her increasingly sinister fantasies. Will she crack? Or, will she simply mature into one more loser in this loutish extended family? In the end, nobody lives happily-ever-after.

Dorothy Allison paints this picture vividly. If you don’t mind looking at battered puppies, you will probably like the book.
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LibraryThing member RochelleJewelShapiro
Written from the point of view of a "wise child," Bastard out of Carolina has such richness of language that even though you're reading about things you wish didn't exist, you're moved by the beauty of Allison's descriptions. The family stories of the Boatwrights within the major story of the triangle between Ruth Anne Boatwright and her mother, Anne, and her stepfather, Daddy Glen, makes this novel an epic.… (more)
LibraryThing member kalobo
Very powerful book, brutal self-analysis of a young girl's abusive childhood in the 50s, in the south. People looking for resolution in a story may not like this book, however I found it honest.
LibraryThing member kelly_m_d
This book was amazing. I read it in only a few days, once I started I couldn't stop. I loved that the author captured the desire and hatred toward Bone from her stepfather, so often authors only hit one or the other. And the mother turning the other cheek so many times, leaving only to return. This book is such a real look into the abuse of a child, and the turmoil and disturbing feelings that it brings up for everyone involved.… (more)
LibraryThing member Marlene-NL
this is what i wrote years ago:

on Monday, July 26, 2004 I wrote:

Well Finally I had a chance to pick up this book.
I am reading 3 books at once right now. (wish I had 2 pair of brains and head so i could read more books
:-)

I've read the first 2 chapters and i like the writing style.
I will update when I've finished to let you know what my thoughts are on this book.

on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 I wrote:

Really enjoying it. After I wrote my last journal and reading the first 2 chapters i picked up another book.
3 days ago I decided to go on and i really think it is a good story. Sometimes pretty scary with her stepfather, but also sometimes a bit boring.
But overall I do like it.
Right now I am on page 240 of 309 so nearly finished

Update August 19 2004 I wrote:

Finished. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to read this book.
The end was a bit weird.
It is a mother's struggle between the love for her man and the love for her daughter.
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LibraryThing member cataylor
Bone is an illegitimate child raised in South Carolina by her close, white-trash family and her frightening step-father. Hard to put down. Great southern fiction.
LibraryThing member HeatherLee
Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina is a heart-wrenching story of a little girl struggling to survive her family and the hurt and pain that they cause. From the moment Ruth-Anne, or Bone, is born she is a given a negative representation. Her mother is constantly struggling to obtain a birth certificate that doesn't claim her daughter as a bastard. And for all the love that Bone's mother has for her daughter, she can't do a thing to protect her. Her step-father abuses her and tells her she is an "evil, sick disgusting person," eventually leading her to believe these things about herself. Bone faces physical and sexual abuse, starvation, and ridicule on a daily basis. However, she is also surrounded by the love and affection of her aunts and uncles, but even they can't save her from the torments of her life.
Bastard out of Carolina isn't a book I would recommend because it is an awesome piece of literature. It is, but I would recommend that everyone read for another, more important, reason. It gives the reader an amazing look into the reality that many of us refuse to face. Allison has created a character that many people can relate to. And if the reader can not relate to Bone, they can empathize.
One reviewer stated that he or she did not like this book at all because it was "too adult," "too disturbing to even enjoy," and what the girls (Bone and her sister) did to themselves was "disgusting." The only thing I can say to that is reality is disturbing. And this book does an excellent job of presenting that aspect of life.
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LibraryThing member aimless22
The subject matter is difficult to read about but the novel is very well written.
LibraryThing member pdebolt
This book is very poignant because its narrator is a child, the victim of abuse by her stepfather. Although he is despicable, the truly unforgivable character is the child's mother, who knows what is happening and tacitly condones it so she won't lose her husband. Animals protect their young, while some human parents don't. This child, as is common, blames herself as she is denied what should be a given for all children: protection, a sense of security and parents who cherish them.… (more)
LibraryThing member deliriumslibrarian
Powerful to the nth power. Allison is a fearless storyteller and requires a fearless reader. No Movie of the Week easy sentimentality here.
LibraryThing member blackbelt.librarian
A dark and difficult read, but a good read nonetheless. Allison's book is semi-autobiographical and tells the story of Bone, a child who sees the world through the keen eyes of an adult. Her family unravels when her mother marries Glen...and the drama culminates in one horrible act.
LibraryThing member DeanieG
This is one of the best and saddest books I've ever read. I cannot believe anyone could live through the things this child did and come out with any kind of sanity, I saw the movie before I read the book, I held my breath and cried through most of it....
LibraryThing member cestovatela
A critical favorite that underwhelmed me. Bone's stepfather is an abusive alcoholic and her weak-willed mother is in denial. The story of a broken woman who just can't choose between her child and the man she loves (however misguidedly) is a poignant one, but to me, many of the key scenes felt forced and overwrought.
LibraryThing member bikerevolution
Utterly fucking heartbreaking. Dorothy Allison's fictional but somewhat autobiographical novel is a beautiful tragedy. Set in the rural south, Allison tells a gripping coming-of-age story while infusing themes of child abuse, class poverty, and a little bit of queerness. I've read this book twice and sobbed hysterically both times, even knowing what would transpire. I seriously believe everyone should read this book at least one time.… (more)
LibraryThing member lindawwilson
A very good book, realistic; subject matter that I don't like too much; incest etc; the more modern literature seems to like this topic as does Opra Winnfry who always puts this type of book on her "Oprah List", but this one is well done and more of a classic
LibraryThing member alaiacona
This is one of the most draining and disheartening books I have ever read. Halfway through, I cancelled my plans for the weekend, put on my sweats, started crying and finished reading. It was cathartic, and I grew up a lot. This book ranks among the best for deflating idealized images of motherhood and family without sensationalizing or acting shocked at the economic and emotional realities of poverty and womanhood.… (more)
LibraryThing member bkwyrmy43
I love this book. Heartwrenchingly (is that a word)beautiful. I had the pleasure of hanging out with Dorothy at a booksigning at our store, super nice and I've read everything she has written.
LibraryThing member KristySP
This book almost killed me. It's a very brutal experience, but worth it. Allison is a wonderful author for aspiring writers to study because her voice is so strong.
LibraryThing member sweetmarie9
I agree that at times this book is "Too difficult to read," but it really does have some great parts to it. I have to admit that I threw the book against the wall a few times (particularly around the end) because of some of the things the characters do, but it really is a great book and worth reading at least once.
LibraryThing member glwestfall
Sorry to say I only read this after the movie had been made. Probably ought to watch that movie, now that I mention it.

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