Archive for June, 2011

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison – review

June 8, 2011

Maybe the best way I can think to describe Bastard out of Carolina is to call it a blue collar, or perhaps wife beater, version of To Kill a Mockingbird. The story is told to us by Bone, from some future time that is removed from the events of the story.It is as if we have sat at the kitchen table of some future Bone and asked her how she came to be who she was and this is the answer she gave us.

The meat of the story is pretty straight forward. Her mom is young when she has her, she’s poor, and she marries a child molester.  What makes the novel special is its pitch perfect tone in evincing a time and place.

What may have worked the best in achieving this were the relatively few times she made any direct comparisons with people who were a bit better off than Bone. The few times Allison does dip into such comparisons, almost always in connection with the step-father Glen’s family, they generally come off the weakest moments. We don’t need to be shown how his well off family look down upon the lower class family, we can pretty much guess at it. The only other time is when Bone’s mother makes trips to the court house to try to get a birth certificate that doesn’t say “illegitimate” on it.  It’s kinda cute at first but, when the court house burns down later, it left me with a feeling of, “well, about time we can put that story angle to rest.” If makes one final appearance at the end of the novel when, just before the mother (Annie) disappears for good,she leaves a birth certificate with Bone, a new one, that doesn’t say “illegitimate” on it. I was left unsure of how I was supposed to feel about this. On the one hand, it could be a scene of validation, of telling Bone that she is quite legitimate and to not allow it to color her life. On the other, after all that has gone on up to that point, it seems like a fairly small thing in the grand scheme of things, and its importance to Annie may reflect somewhat poorly on her.

What stands out to me with the novel are hands. We’re pretty much beat over the head that Glen has epically huge hands (and, apparently, cock, as there are a few references made to the freakish size of his manhood and which could effectively work with the comparison to the size of his hands, which would be subbing for the more commonly used feet), and he uses them to beat and batter Bone into fifty different disfigurations. Looking back on it, I’m realizing just how often Allison brought up hands. I know she brought them up in reference to the uncles, to Aunt Ruth, to Aunt Raylene and to Bone herself. If you’re reading Bastard out of Carolina, it might pay off to pay special attention to everyone’s hands and what they are doing with them. It’s a realization that I had too late.