Bastard Out of Carolina

ISBN: 0525934251
ISBN 13: 9780525934257
By: Dorothy Allison

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/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

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.


A contemporary classic, this powerful novel is a disturbing tale of child abuse, told with wisdom and restraint. Allison brilliantly tells the story through the first-person narrative of Bone, a young girl who doesn’t want to believe what’s happening to her, so for the most part she reveals the truth sparingly—which makes the more dramatic moments that much more terrifying. Allison deftly captures the psychological nuances of the situation at the same time, making clear to the reader some things the innocent narrator probably doesn’t comprehend. One stunning moment that exemplifies this point comes when the mother, frustrated by her husband’s inability to bring home enough money to feed the kids, tarts herself up, goes out, and returns later with a boatload of groceries. The reader instantly knows what’s going on, but Bone seems to remain uncertain. Throughout, the writing is beautiful—convincingly in Bone’s voice, but touched by poetry (and thankfully unblemished by dialect). The ending is heartbreaking, as we see that the scars of abuse are not only physical; it is emotional betrayal that has the longest-lasting effects. Closing this amazing book, one wonders how any of us survive childhood at all.

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.


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.


** 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.


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.

Jeffrey Keeten

”He pinned me between his hip and the sink, lifting me slightly and bending me over. I reached out and caught hold of the porcelain, trying not to grab at him, not to touch him. No. No. No. He was raging, spitting, the blows hitting the wall as often as they hit me. Beyond the door, Mama was screaming. Daddy Glen was grunting. I hate him. I hated him. The belt went up and came down. Fire along my thighs. Pain. I would not scream. I would not, would not, would not scream.” Bone played by Jena Malone in the movie adaptation.There was confusion when Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright was born. Her Mama, a fifteen year old girl without a husband, was recovering from a car wreck and from giving birth when the people with the paperwork came around. Bone’s Aunts tried to answer the questions, but because they could not remember exactly the name of the fellow who was the sperm donor the paperwork went through as UNKNOWN FATHER and Bone’s birth certificate is stamped in big red letters at the bottom. ILLEGITIMATE. Her mother tries for years to get that red stain removed from the birth certificate, but the people at the courthouse take too much malicious, petty joy out of continuing to issue each new birth certificate with the same damning stamp.The Boatwright clan is a force of nature. The men are hard working, hard hitting, binge drinking, thieving, skirt chasing,and fast driving dervishes of fire and passion who when not fighting each other are fighting the world.They are intensely loyal, to a fault, to their friends and family. The Boatwright women name their daughters after their sisters. They name their sons after their brothers. They demand respect and get it. When Aunt Alma gets into a conflict with her husband she makes if very clear how she sees things. ”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.”Family get togethers are intensely emotional and always on the verge of song or violence. Uncle Earle is Bone’s favorite uncle. He is popular with the whole family brimming with charisma. He is the one guy everybody wants to see when they are troubled. Uncle Earle played by Michael Rooker in the movie adaptation. ”Uncle Earle was my favorite of all my uncles. He was known as Black Earle for three counties around. Mama said he was called Black Earle for that black black hair that fell over his eyes in a great soft curl, but Aunt Raylene said it was for his black black heart. He was a good-looking man, soft-spoken and hardworking. He told Mama that all the girls loved him because he looked like Elvis Presley, only skinny and with muscles. In a way he did, but his face was etched with lines and sunburned a deep red-brown. The truth was he had none of the Elvis Presley’s baby-faced innocence; he had a devilish look and a body Aunt Alma swore was made for sex. He was a big man, long and lanky, with wide hands marked with scars. ‘Earle looks like trouble coming in on greased skids.’” Now Bone’s Mama is married to one young man just long enough to get pregnant with Bone’s sister Reese. He died under unusual circumstances clearing the way for Glen Waddell. Glen comes from a good family, a family that owns their houses and goes into professions like lawyering and doctoring. Now Bone’s mother Anney is a beauty, fine boned and graceful, but compared to the type of women that a Waddell is expected to marry she is trash. Glen has never lived up to his father’s expectations and marrying Anney just confirms for their family that he is never going to amount to anything. He gets in fights. He intensely loves Anney; and yet ,can’t hardly stand to be in the same room with Ruth Anne without finding some “bone of contention”. ”I looked at his hands. No he never meant to hurt me, not really, I told myself, but more and more those hands seemed to move before he could think. His hands were big, impersonal, and fast. I could not avoid them. Reese and I made jokes about them when he wasn’t around--gorilla hands, monkey paws, paddlefish, beaver tails. My dreams were full of long fingers, hands that reached around doorframes and crept over the edge of the mattress, fear in me like a river, like the ice-dark blue of his eyes.” Daddy Glen, as he insists on being called, swears he loves Bone, but when he is not beating her he is pulling her against him; rubbing her up and down his body; his hands inside her clothes. His mind is twisted with hate and unnatural desire a lethal combination that kills love. Even though she can’t carry a tune, Bone wants to be a gospel singer. She loves the music, but what she really loves about religion is Revelations. It stokes the rage in her heart and gives her hope that everyone will get what’s coming to them. ”I sang along with the music and prayed for all I was worth. Jesus’ blood and country music, there had to be something else, something more to hope for. I bit my lip and went back to reading the Book of Revelation, taking comfort in the hope of the apocalypse, God’s retribution on the wicked. I liked Revelations, loved the Whore of Babylon and the promised rivers of blood and fire. It struck me like gospel music, it promised vindication.”Bone loves her Mama so completely that she made me want to love her too. I just couldn’t forgive her. Sometimes when we are faced with something so horrible our brain chooses not to process that information. Anney knew, but didn’t want to know. Anney not only let Bone down, she let us all down. I know we can’t help who we fall in love with, but you have to love your children more. In the beginning, children are the best of us ,and how we protect them and nurture them will determine whether they continue to represent us to the world as better versions of ourselves or shattered adaptations of the worst of us. Dorothy AllisonThe plot is predictable, no deviations from a script that has been played before. Despite that I bumped it to four stars for the lovely descriptions of the Boatwright family. I felt that Allison has that Southern gift for language that soars especially well when she is describing people. The Boatwright’s are a family I’d be proud to be a part of and a family I’d work like crazy to get far, far away from.

Kate Andrews

Okay, it's been a looong time since I read this but I do remember enough to say a few words. It has definitely stuck in my mind in the 10-15+ yrs or so since I originally read it, to the extent that certain aspects/plot points/strengths/etc, are vivid in my memory, which to me, is a huge test that a) it made an impact, b) is good enough that it's extraordinarily memorable and c) considering I still hold it in high regard after so many years, stands the test of time. It's raw, poignant, harrowing, and hilarious at times. The narrator's voice is unique and extraordinarily well-developed. It's the story of a southern girl who's abused & sexually and the impact this has on not only her but those around her and how their reactions affect her on top of the trauma. One thing that is clearly evident in this book is how our environments/families/communities/cultures/etc shape our experiences. It's a haunting and vivid account of a young girl's life that's clearly and realistically shaped by childhood trauma, but it's also so much more than that. The language and imagery are also particular strengths as is the sense of time and place. Setting in this novel plays an important role in how the events play out, imho, and also is an obviously significant factor in the behavior/actions/personalities of the characters, as well as events that take place. It's truly a beautiful book, if not the easiest book to read, especially for those who have been abused themselves. Gah, I really can't say much more, because I don't want to say something I'm either unsure of or can't elaborate on or whatever. Suffice it to say, this book is stellar, and is a book everyone should take the time to read, imho.


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.

Joseph Ahearne

So gritty and good. I love when a story breathes this deeply and you find yourself right there inside it, laughing and crying and getting angry and repentant with the characters. Thanks Dorothy Allison.


Brilliant. A classic. To me, it's all in the voice. If a novel has a great voice, a memorable voice--which this one does--I'll follow the writer anywhere, even into the dark dark depths of life, which is where this book takes you. And yet it doesn't take you there without a sense of that endurance and strength are core elements of most humans, even children.


** spoiler alert ** I'll start off by saying that this review is not going to be as thorough as it could. There's a simple reason for that:I hated this book.The one good thing it had was skillful writing; there was excellent description and flow.What I personally hated:- The ending: not only is it a terribly depressing ending, but it offers little to no closure. In fact, it seems like the protagonist is trapped in the same terrible, stereotypical 'white trash' situation that she was born into. It's highly likely that she'll end up used and disappointed like all the other women in her family.- The message: the WORST message I think I may have ever read in a book. Many will disagree with me because I think the message a reader's gets out of this story is probably very different from person to person because it's a sensitive issue.My perspective: At least at face value, the story says that the mother was a strong person when she left her child after SEEING her RAPED by her HUSBAND to be with him instead. There is no other way to describe that than as disgusting. Any deeper meaning or optimism other people see in the end may be well and good for them, but the fact that this is prominent make me sick. Younger readers especially will learn nothing from this story of abuse. To me, at least, if you're going to read a book about such a negative experience, something good should come out of it. Perhaps learning about the warning signs, or nurturing empathy, or reassurance that after someone is a victim of abuse, with help and self-love they can still grow to become happy and successful people. I didn't see that message here. I suppose many people must since this book is so popular. But for me, I ended up feeling disgusted and closed the back cover not feeling a single bit more educated, understanding, empathetic etc. at all. So at the very least, NEVER make anyone read this in school like I had to. It explores extremely sensitive topics in a way that I don't think will be beneficial to many learning young people and my actually cause more harm than good. Many of my classmates who were highly educated about abuse, could not emotionally tolerate the setup of this novel.And that's all I really feel like mentioning at this time. I may update this review if I have other ideas or want to bother wasting time on this book again. I doubt that'll happen, and I recommend that you don't waste your time on it either unless you know what you're getting yourself into.


I tend to be skeptical when someone tells me that a book changed their life. I found a curriculum materials that talked about this book and how life-changing it was for the teacher who prepared the lesson. Although I didn't find it to be quite the experience she described, it was still an incredible book with complex characters, an engaging plot, and excellent writing.The book is disturbing, at times, being an account of poverty, prejudice, violence, love and hatred, and family dynamics. Bone is not a protagonist that engenders the reader's love or sympathy, but she is a powerful character.A memorable, well-crafted, and moving story.


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.

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