Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bastard Out of Carolina - Dorothy Allison

I came to know about this book in one of the discussion on the Southern Literature. It was during that time, this book caught my eye in one of the used book sale stall. It was otherwise difficult to get these books in India. Southern Literature, from the the states  of Texas to Carolinas. These states have many things in common, from civil war , the fight against slavery and the reconstruction of the union.

An semi-autobiographical novel written by Dorothy Allison, takes us through the early childhood life of  Anne Ruth ( called as 'Bone'). Book opens with the details of her birth. Her fifteen year old mother gave birth to the daughter after a serious car accident. She was named after her eldest aunt Ruth and was nicknamed 'Bone' on some comment made by one of her cousins. Her mother's attempt to get her birth certificate made was turned out to be a failure after she could not prove her marital status. As a result, the certificate declares the girl "illegitimate". She continued her effort with the authorities for the next two years, but the result was same, apart from some ridiculing talks by her co-workers. At the age of 17, she marries another man and produces another child with him. But he too did not last long, succumbs to a vehicle accident.  She again falls in love with Glen Waddel, the youngest son of a rich Dairy trader, and after two years courtship, marries him at an age of 21.

Glen, initially take to the liking of the kids, soon taking liberties on them. Bone, was at the receiving end of his physical and sexual abuses. After Anney delivered a still baby, unable to conceive any more, the attacks become regular. The fate turns against them as Glen looses his job, unable to control his behaviour. His anger against himself and his failures in getting a decent job,  makes him turns against the girl. The atrocities of the step father did not go unnoticed, as the closed-knit family of Bone comes to know this and Glen was physically handled by her uncles. Anney stay out of Glen with her kids for some time, but the family reconcile soon. The atrocities continue and for the second time Anney moves out with her kids but an angry Glen break into the house of her aunt and rapes Bone, blaming her for the break up and her mother's anger towards him. Anney comes to fetch the girl witnessing the scene and leave the place after taking the girl to the doctor, She leave the town forever, after meeting the girl one last time, handing her a genuine birth certificate, which does not have the 'illegitimate' stamp.

The Boatwright family clan is very entertaining , men with their drinking, fighting and womanizing and the women with their loose life and stubbornness. In spite of their differences, there is a strong relationship within the clan, often jump into the support of the fellow member. The reaction and responses are often extreme, and they are thus known for their notoriety. It is the same members come to the rescue of the young girl and take revenge.

On her part the mother is one who endures all. The need for love and support on one side, but her own love to her daughter on the other side, makes her to loose both in the end. The girl is impassive on her own suffering, but is more concerned about the mothers plight. She even advise the mother to go back to her father, because she needs it, but refuses to join them.

It is difficult to write from the child's point of view and the language. In many of the novel's I've read, the voice is inconsistent and the writer sneak in with his voice. But in this book, it was consistently brilliant and appropriate. While I do not think this is a great work of fiction, it indeed had some beautiful paragraphs and literary brilliance. Dorothy Allison, personal history is almost similar to the protagonist of this story. A fifteen year old mother, abusive step father and the like, hence the intensity of writing is very high through out. Sensitive, moving and intensive book. Good work of fiction.


Bastard Out of Carolina ( 1992)

Dorothy Allison

Plume Books

309 Pages

More : Wiki entry

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