Bastard Out of Carolina

ISBN: 0525934251
ISBN 13: 9780525934257
By: Dorothy Allison

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About this book

/Allison/Dorothy In languid prose that beautifully evokes the rural South of the '60s and '70s, Allison tells the story of the Boatwright family, who refuse to be shamed by the label "poor white trash". Allison's keen eye and lyrical style throw into sharp relief the rages and sorrows of this bunch of drunks and thieves, making for an asto

Reader's Thoughts


** spoiler alert ** I was highly disappointed with this book and all of the hype it created when it came out. After reading the first few chapters I was drawn in and thought it flowed well but then the author starts on these tangents of character's that are not needed to tell the story. It came across as filler to me. There were so many aunts and uncles and back stories to go along with them, not to mention endless cousins, that it was quite difficult to keep them straight without making a family tree. The ending, as a mother myself, was quite depressing. It wasn't quite believable that she would leave one daughter but not the other to go with her husband. The story didn't address that situation either way.

Larry Bassett

”Oh, but that’s why I got to cut his throat,” she said plainly. “If I didn’t love the son of a bitch, I’d let him live forever.” This statement written by Dorothy Allison in Bastard Out of Carolina and spoken by Alma is often quoted in reviews. Words in the Boatwright family are not always logical and rarely without passion. By the time you read this book you will have had enough experience with the large dysfunctional family to know that. I remembered Aunt Alma’s direct look this afternoon when she’d talked about loving Wade, about wanting to kill him. I didn’t understand that kind of love. I didn’t understand anything. A twelve year old shouldn’t have to understand that, let alone feel it herself. She would have to be an excellent example of growing up too young, a Boatwright family specialty.Before I started reading Bastard Out of Carolina, I found the 1996 movie streaming online and watched it. (If you go to , you will find where you can watch the movie for free.) Immediately after I watched the movie, I was not sure I wanted to read the book! The movie had some horrific, violent scenes and I thought the book might go into these scenes in more detail. I was quivering from the movie so I took a break. I wondered how the actors in the movie, especially the young ones, managed to maintain their mental health portraying events that I had trouble even watching. As I often find for myself, the images on the screen were more intense than the words in the book. In a book I am sometimes shielded from the content by my admiration of the writing, of the choice of words. The film is more vivid and in my face, pummeling me.I was a child protective services (CPS) worker in the mid 1970s dealing with child abuse and neglect. These societal concerns were receiving increased public attention and academic study at that time and CPS was just coming to term and being born. The Battered Child Syndrome certainly applies to Bone, the girl child we watch grow up in an abusive home in Bastard Out of Carolina. This book is a lesson in traditional old time, country living. The story is told by the girl, Bone. They did what they could. The sisters sent Mama a wedding present, a love knot Marvella had made using some of her own hair, after Maybelle had cut little notches in their rabbits’ ears under a new moon, adding the blood to the knot. She set the rabbits loose, and then the two of them tore up half a dozen rows of their beans and buried honeycomb in a piece of lace tablecloth where the beans had flourished. The note with the love knot told Mama that she should keep it under the mattress of the new bed that Glen had bought, but Mama sniffed the blood and dried hair, and shook her head over the thing. She couldn’t quite bring herself to throw it away, but she put it in one of her flower pots out in the utility room where Glen wouldn’t find it stinking up their house. The Boatwright family is hard living, hard drinking, fighting; Bone is proud to be a part of it: We’re smart, I thought. We’re smarter than you think we are. I felt mean and powerful and proud of all of us, all the Boatwrights who had ever gone to jail, fought back when they hadn’t a chance, and still held on to their pride. Bone suffers abuse that is graphically portrayed: emotional, physical, sexual: “Nobody wants me to have nothing nice,” he’d complain, and then get in one of his dangerously quiet moods and refuse to talk to anyone. He brooded so much that Reese and I patrolled the yard, picking up windblown trash and do turds – anything that would make him mad. Every new house made him happy for a little while, and we tried to extend that period of relative calm as much as possible, keeping everything clean and neat.. . .His left hand reached for me, caught my shoulder, pulled me over his left leg. He flipped my skirt up over my head and jammed it into that hand. I heard the sound of the belt swinging up, a song in the air, a high-pitched terrible sound. It hit me and I screamed. Daddy Glen swung his belt again. I screamed at its passage through the air, screamed before it hit me,. I screamed for Mama. He was screaming with me, his great hoarse shouts as loud as my high thin squeals, and behind us outside the locked door, Reese was screaming too, and then Mama. All of us were screaming, and no one could help.. . .He never said, “Don’t tell your Mama.” He never had to say it. I did not know how to tell anyone what I felt, what scared me and shamed me and still made me stand, unmoving and desperate, while he rubbed against me and ground his face into my neck. I could not tell Mama. I would not have known how to explain why I stood there and let him touch me. It wasn’t sex, not like a man and a woman pushing their naked bodies into each other, but then, it was something like sex, something powerful and frightening that he wanted badly and I did not understand at all. Worse, when Daddy Glen held me that way, it was the only time his hands were gentle, and when he let me go, I would rock on uncertain feet. . . .Two weeks later we were back home with Daddy Glen. Nothing had changed. Everything had changed. Daddy Glen had said he was sorry, begged, wept, and swore never to hurt me again. I had stood silent, stubborn, and numb. This is the story of abuse everywhere. But not too many people can write about it like Dorothy Allison has. And you ask what was happening to Bone’s younger sister, Reese? Very often there is a special child who is the object of all of the abuse while others are untouched. Bone was that special child in her family. The emotional damage done to Reese is undoubtedly severe even though she was spared the physical and sexual abuse. Child abuse has a strong blame-the-victim component. Daddy Glen would beat Bone and her mother asked, “What did you do to make him do that?”Allison explains her writing about abuse:The need to make my world believable to people who have never experienced it is part of why I write fiction. I know that some things must be felt to be understood, that despair, for example, can never be adequately analyzed; it must be lived. But if I can write a story that so draws the reader in that she imagines herself like my characters, feels their sense of fear and uncertainty, their hopes and terrors, then I have come closer to knowing myself as real, important as the very people I have always watched with awe.. . .By the time I taught myself the basics of storytelling on the page, I knew there was only one story that would haunt me until I understood how to tell it—the complicated, painful story of how my mama had, and had not, saved me as a girl. Writing Bastard Out of Carolina became, ultimately, the way to claim my family's pride and tragedy, and the embattled sexuality I had fashioned on a base of violence and abuse.Source: the online essay from which those paragraphs are taken, will tell you much about Dorothy Allison and her writing. The phrase ‘semi-autobiographical’ will become clear to the reader.It hurt to read parts of this book. Bone’s reaction to being abused is so typical and so distressing. “It was my fault, all my fault. I had ruined everything.” But there were also some good parts. It made me remember being a child and playing with a gang of kids in my neighborhood. It reminded me of the strength within a family, even within a troubled family.The Boatwright clan of Greenville County, South Carolina has to be your stereotype of an extended family with boatloads of hate and more boatloads of love. To call them a dysfunctional family is too neat and tidy a summary. Their interactions with anyone outside the family are limited, at least according to Bastard Out of Carolina. Lots of parents and grandparents and sisters and brothers and in-laws and nieces and nephews and cousins populate this book. The outsiders are medical people we meet at the hospital when the Boatwrights hurt each other enough, a nearby family with an albino daughter who vie for an oddity award, the law for when a Boatwright gets involved in something illegal (common but still the family tries to deal with its own infractions), the people in the diner where Mama often works. There is a family album with the newspaper articles about the family – mostly things that you might not think people would be proud of. The newspaper photo of the pick-up truck that a drunk Earle drove through a barber shop window is a good example.There are still real Boatwrights in a real Greenville County, SC. The book will tell you, of course, that this is a book for fiction and any resemblance is coincidental! I don’t know how exactly how that works when a book is acknowledged to be semi-autobiographical.(view spoiler)[ One of the most difficult questions left unresolved is Bone’s relationship with her mother who chose abuser Daddy Glen over abused daughter Bone. That choice is made shortly after the mother observes her husband raping and beating her twelve year old daughter on the living room floor of a sister’s house. This is the sister who loved her husband so much that she wanted to cut his throat with a razor. The implication is that Bone forgives her mother although the mother and step-father move away from the area and Raylene, the gay aunt, says her mother will never forgive herself. Raylene knows this from her personal experience of having a lesbian partner choose her baby over Raylene. This is divulged at the conclusion of the book. Nothing should be a surprise since Raylene is, above all, a Boatwright. If Bone is Dorothy Allison, the psychiatric bills must be immense. But she did become a pretty good writer – at what cost, I ask. The book is dedicated to Ms. Allison’s mother, so I guess there must have been some reconciliation at least mentally. (hide spoiler)]You get to know Bone and her family real well. You feel yourself right there in the midst of their craziness. As a result of my child protective service experience several years after I got out of college, I am very sensitive to what Dorothy Allison writes. She is a remarkably courageous person to expose herself as she has. Even after all these years, I came face to face with the stress that made me transfer out of that CPS job after two years. This is a very well written book even beyond its confrontation with the horrors of child abuse. You want to be more positive but the conclusion hammers home the damage done by the events, however fictional, in the book. Finally, Bone says, “I was who I was going to be, someone like her, like Mama, a Boatwright woman.” This conclusion seems sad yet realistic. You just want to give her a hug. And that is what Raylene does. Yikes! Five stars.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>


like wading through a syrup swamp.


The back of your throat burns as anger and hatred bubble over like the pots of fruit for canning on Aunt Raylene’s stove. Excitement and revenge consume you while you seek some semblance of justice through the iron fists of the endearing uncles. You cry until you’re stone-faced and numb, haunted by the sorrow of complete and utter loneliness in a county inundated with kin. Dorothy Allison forces the reader to commiserate with Bone’s anguish and despair as though they were living it. Brutal, heart-wrenching and catastrophic, I am left crippled with emotion from the Bastard out of Carolina, one of my favourites and a story I truly can never

A.M. O'Malley

I just read this for the second time. When I was still at home, still under his roof. I saw the film adaptation of Bastard Out Of Carolina. We all did; my mother, him, the boys we watched it together in the living room. I laid on the floor in front of the TV and felt all the muscles in my body tense and a hot flush go through me as I watched the story of Bone , the bastard girl. Her mama married a man—after a hard life, he was her second chance—and then her mama stood by as that man hurt Bone. He terrorized her and told her she was nothing, hurt her over and over. That is me, that is me, that is me. I thought as I laid there, my tormentor, my step-father made derisive comments to the movie—I fantasized for the thousandth time standing up with power; 6 feet tall, armed, blazing. I imagined stabbing him in the heart, ripping him to shreds, tearing him into tiny pieces. I laid there and tried to block out his voice, tried to build an invisible wall between us. When Bone’s uncles find out how she’s been hurt they beat her step-daddy to a pulp—they but him in the hospital. I feel flushed and triumphant. I feel that justice like no other justice has ever been served.I was out of the house just a couple years, safe from him but filled with rage—not safe from myself—when I read the book by Dorothy Allison. This time, when the uncles beat Daddy-Glen I just felt sick jealousy. I have four uncles and they pretended that nothing was wrong. It was the book, page 300, near the end after Bone has been beaten and raped and her mama has left her to be with Daddy-Glen that I read the words that have been the only explanation that could ever come close. “Bone, no woman can stand to choose between her child and her husband.” That was it, that was all I had besides when my own mama said “Do you want me to die alone” after she had finally been forced to face the facts, after I had run away, attempted suicide, been hospitalized, after I had been terrorized by my own step-father for six years, after I had begged and cried and raged to be saved.I met Dorothy Allison many years later, I waited in line while she signed books and flirted with people. My guts were all jumbled up, I was in line with a friend and I could hardly hold a conversation with her—my eyes were just on Dorothy. I needed so badly to somehow let her know that that line on page 300 of B.O.O.C. was all I’d had for years as any sort of reason why I’d been left out to be hurt, why my mama hadn’t done anything. I got close, I held out my book with shaky hands, I fumbled my words—told her how much her work meant to me, how it had changed my life. The words felt weak and pale and I wished I’d had the money to be taught by her, that I hadn’t just snuck in to see her read. What I really wanted was to sit with her awhile and find out if she’s ever made peace with her mama. If she’d ever lost that sour stinging feeling in her gut when she thought about what had happened.

Nancy Rossman

I have read it three times in the past ten years. Dorothy is an amazing writer, teacher, and generous of her advice and wisdom. Not only is the book, I think, by far her best work but if you ever get a chance to hear her read her work ... she treats it as a performance piece. Marvelous.Also of late, this book was written 20 years ago...yet remains in the top 1% of Amazon's bestseller list and has a 94% approval rating on Goodreads. Really, this is an astonishing achievement.


Conpletely depressing story about Bone, a young girl growing up in a small Southern town, Born out of wedlock, achingly poor, ashamed of her extended family, and full of self loathing, Bone also endures horrific abuse at the hands of her step father while her mother turns away. I appreciated the pov, and the author did a good job painting both the setting and the mindset of Bone. However, there were too many characters and the plot got too fragmented sometimes. Also, although this story is powerfully written, the premise of white trash Southerners drinking too much and abusing their children is a little overdone and cliche'd.


Allison's partially autobiographical novel of growing up in Greenville, South Carolina is an unflinching and harrowing account of how physical abuse, sexual abuse, and shame can hide in plain sight, even among such a close-knit family as the legendary Boatwrights. By page three, we learn how Bone, the narrator, became a bastard certified by the state of South Carolina, something her mother never lets go of. In her quest for legitimacy, her mother ends up marrying Daddy Glen Waddell, who comes from a more "respectable" family, even though his family is more judgmental and abusive---and they don't have any of the redeeming charms of the Boatwright family. No, the Waddells are not warm or clannish. They don't stick up for each other. They show no interest sharing stories, love, or ties, only contempt for Daddy Glen and the trash that he married. Because of his family's contempt and his inability to produce a male heir, Daddy Glen lashes out at Bone, whom he views as the personification of his shame. The subsequent responses of her mother and Bone's desire to protect her mother's remaining chance at happiness only compound Bone's inability to understand what is happening to her.I found this novel to be one of the best examples of Southern American literature, much akin Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!. The dialog is rich and colorful, the child's perspective is authentically palpable, and the Southern emphasis on family legacy rings true. The relationships among the Boatwright women is the one thread offering redemption---they are the ones who are able to speak the truth, even if it is something that the listeners do not want to or cannot hear.


A young girl tries to make sense of her life with a mom, without her dad, with a step-sister by a dead husband, with lots of very crazy relatives, with extreme poverty, and then with an new abusive stepfather. No conclusions = just that life is complicated. I enjoyed it which seems like a strange thing to say about such a mess as the characters make. I would like to read the sequel to find out what sort of person the girl, Ruth Anne Boatwright, becomes.

Dusty Myers

One thing I know for sure is that Bastard out of Carolina is, in the end, a very conservative book. Its focus is on the family. Ruth Anne Boatwright is a girl born the titular bastard to a teenage mother, Annie, and an absent father. The mother remarries after she has another kid with a man who dies, and this man she marries—Daddy Glen—turns out in what has now become a cliche in the memoir/autobionovel genre to be abusive. First it's verbal/emotional, then it becomes physical/sexual. All the while, Annie turns a blind eye, or sees what's going on and gets really upset but then goes crawling back to Daddy Glen because she can't stand to be alone. The novel ends with this reconciliation between daughter and mother than rang, to me, completely false and sentimental. "You're my own baby girl," Annie says. "I'm not gonna let you go." And the line is so clearly another lie, yet Ruth Anne does everything in her narration to assert that this time she believed it, and therefore we should.Another problem I had with the book was its point of view. I don't remember what the problem was, exactly, just that a problem was had. I think it had something to do with the fact that for much of the book Ruth Anne doesn't do anything but watch her colorful family members yell and lie at one another. And then this combined with the book's insistence that we never question Ruth Anne's perspective on herself and the events of her narrative. It's like this depressing by-product of the Victim Narrative That Resists At All Costs Being Labeled A Victim Narrative. I fully submit that this is a matter of personal taste, not one of literary ideals or whatever.Like, I like my first-person narrated novels to be a bit more aware of the inherent unreliability of every first-person narrator ever. Bad memoirs are completely ignorant of this. "I" am witness, they say. "I" will tell you what you need to know. Novels, though, usually know better. Or, at least, they should.


Lucinda Williams was the soundtrack for this one. It was swallowed quickly, almost lapped. I felt possessed at times, perhaps sensing some reflections towards my own upbringing. I found the ending elgaic.

Lisa Mills

** spoiler alert ** The book is disturbing but so effective in making me dislike Glen and in the end Bone’s mother. It was difficult to read about Bone growing up in a household filled with child abuse perpetrated by her step-father. When her mother learned about the abuse it kind of seemed like she tried to shield her daughter from it. However, at the end of the novel after Bone’s mother discovered her husband raping and beating her daughter she comforted her daughter for a minute and then moments later comforted her husband. Incomprehensible!! She dumped her daughter who she had seemingly loved her whole life at the hospital and then ran off with her perverse husband. Thank goodness Bone had an extended family with some sense that could raise her and hopefully help her develop some self-esteem after her mother destroyed what little sense of self-worth she possessed.


I thought it was a good, well-written book w/ interesting characters. But, seriously, why are most "good books" such downers?

Ginny Messina

On her web site Dorothy Allison says "What I am here for is to tell you stories you may not want to hear." Bastard Out of Carolina is definitely a hard story to hear. It is a beautifully-written semi-autobiographical account of a childhood in 1950s-60s South Carolina. The protagonist, nicknamed Bone, is a victim of poverty and physical abuse, including sexual abuse. But she is also part of a big extended family, all of whom are poor, uneducated, loving, and protective. Allison lived this story and knew these people, which is why she is able to write about them so convincingly. Bone's mother is a complex and interesting character who either chooses not to protect her child or is unable to do so because she perceives her choices to be so limited. Allison probably believes the latter—-she dedicated this book to the memory of her own mother. But either way, she seems to have an admirable capacity for forgiveness. As wonderful as this book is, it did lag a bit for me at parts, which is why I gave it 4 stars rather than 5. It's still an amazing book!


Don't waste your time on authors who put their therapy on a shelf. It's a sad, depressing story that inspires rage in anyone who reads it; however, at some point I stopped feeling terrible for this girl and started berating her (or the author... it really is autobiographical). No one spends nearly a decade being sexually abused and still questions whether or not what is happening to them is abuse. But that is only the plot (and one small element of the plot that doesn't make sense), the style of the writing itself has problems as well.Ultimately, this is a tale centering on a family ("white trash", and just because the writer claims it from the beginning doesn't mean I disagreed by the end) with definite co-dependence issues. The women are all taken advantage of and it seems there is nothing that will wake up the men to their unhappiness, and there is nothing that could be done to the women that would make them leave a husband (as is horrifically apparent with the conclusion). Furthermore, with the climax occurring inside the conclusion there should have been some kind of deeply resounding resolution to the girl's/woman's abuse and perspective about human relationships, but I really didn't see that happen. Instead, I saw a clear picture of this girl going on to become another Boatwright woman--taken advantage of and unwilling to do anything about it.

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