Greenville County, South Carolina, a wild, lush place, is 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 astonishing novel is Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone, a South Carolina bastard with an annotated birth certificate to tell the tale. Observing everything with the mercilessly keen eye of a child, Bone finds herself caught in a family triangle that will test the loyalty of her mother, Anney. Her stepfather, Daddy Glen, calls Bone “cold as death, mean as a snake, and twice as twisty,” yet Anney needs Glen. 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.
Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina is my current new favorite book, and I don’t say that lightly. On Goodreads, I have a “my favorites” list, but I rarely add books to it. Last year I read 48 books and added 2 to the “my favorites” list, so this is big, guys.
Bastard Out of Carolina is the story of Bone, an illegitimate (I hate that term) Southern girl who wants nothing more than for her mother’s allegiance to lie with her, rather than with Bone’s abusive stepfather. From the time she is a small child, Daddy Glen abuses her in every way possible — emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually. Rather than divorcing Daddy Glen, Bone’s mother foists her daughter off on various aunts to keep her out of the house and out of harm’s way, leaving Bone feeling abandoned, punished, and angry. But Daddy Glen’s abuse continues to escalate throughout the novel, leading to a harrowing ending.
To me, characters are the most important aspect of a novel, and Bone was definitely in my Top 10. She was so honest, and so complex and hurt and strong. I love emotional books, especially ones where you are really rooting for a character who is struggling within herself. Because not only did Bone feel anger toward her mother and stepfather, she also had internal struggles: feeling as though she was “bad,” poor, trash, etc. and didn’t fit within either her immediate or extended family.
I also really appreciate a strong female “cast” in novels, and this book had just that. These women were very real — they struggled with families, illness, poverty. I especially liked Bone’s aunt Raylene, a lesbian who formed a foil for her straight (and often men-dependent) sisters. She was strong and cared for Bone when Bone’s mother could not.
I was captivated by this novel. It wasn’t particularly fast-paced, but it felt as though it was, because Bone’s internal conflict was ever-changing and intense. The last thirty pages were so incredibly heartrending I could hardly put the novel down, even after I had finished it. It was one of those books that I wanted to lament and exclaim and gush over with other people (and I proceeded to highly recommend it to several friends).