Book 50: Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison

Bastard Out of Carolina - Dorothy AllisonBastard Out of Carolina is the story of Ruth Anne “Bone” Cartwright. It’s a story about survival and about perseverance. Although I thought it was sad, it was empowering. I can understand why it wasn’t required reading in High School, but with everything we hear and read on the news these days, may as well have been.

The novel starts off with Bone recounting the story of her birth and her mom’s struggles to get a birth certificate for her that doesn’t have ‘ILLEGITIMATE’ stamped across the bottom third in bright red letters. And the struggles keep coming for Bone and her mom. Her mom, after marrying a loving man who dies within a few years, finally has met a man ‘Daddy Glen’ who treats her right, however as the book progresses we learn how he treats Bone.

I found the character Aunt Raylene fascinating for her steadfastness and her apparent removal from the rest of her family. Between her geographical distance and the authors’ description of Raylene through Bone’s eyes, I questioned her sexuality well before its revelation. Perhaps it’s the type of literature I’ve read recently or the author’s descriptions, but it didn’t take me long to question whether Raylene was a lesbian, the revelation of which was incredibly important as the author used the comparison of Raylene’s lost (female) love to the love of Bone’s mother and Daddy Glen. Perhaps this is a glance into the author’s personal politics, but who knows. I appreciated the normalization and the ‘what you do in your own home/bedroom doesn’t matter to us as long as you keep it there’ mindset of the Cartwright family and I think it speaks wonders that Bone chooses Raylene to live with (and Raylene chooses Bone) at the end of the novel.

It would be over-simplifying the novel to say the entire novel is about Bone’s relationship with Daddy Glen, as it’s about all of her relationships and the people she trusts and doesn’t. From the onset with the birth certificate she is cast as an outsider and this is hammered home throughout the novel with various relatives constantly telling her she’s not like any of them, but like some distant relative. The novel is also about her mother’s choice between the man she loves and the love of her daughter. Although Anney (bone’s mother) leaves Daddy Glen temporarily when her family first discovers the abuse, in the end Anney chooses love of her husband over her daughter. I think the author was daring to include the novel as stereotypes are strong and the women who abandon/murder their children in literature are remembered for little else, like Medea and Nora Helmur.

The novel ends in what I’m not sure is an attempt at absolving the mother or empowering Bone. Anney provides Bone with a non bastardized birth certificate and then disappears. Was this Anney’s attempt to give Bone a better life by leaving her with Aunt Raylene and a clean birth certificate? Or was this Anney’s attempt to clear her own conscience by wrapping up the loose ends of Bone’s life before she abandoned her and the rest of her family.

Quotes from Bastard Out of Carolina
“Nothing had changed. Everything had changed.” (117)

“At least Catholics are interesting, got all that up-and-down stuff, chanting, velvet carpet on the pews and real watered wine for communion. What the hell Baptists got? Grape-juice communions, silly rules against dancing and movies, self-righteousness by the barrelful, damn-fool preachers in shiny suits, and simple minded parishioners! Baptists could learn something from the Catholics.” (147)

“It felt as if the world was falling apart in slow motion.” (260)

“You don’t know who those children are. Maybe they’re nasty and silly and hateful. Maybe not. You don’t know what happens to them when they go home. You don’t know their daddies or mamas, who their people are, why they do things, or what they’re scared of. You think because they wear different clothes than you and go by so fast, they’re rich and cruel and thinking terrible things about you. Could be they’re looking at you sitting up here eating blackberries and looking at them like they’re spit on a stove—could be they’re jealous of you, hungry for what you got, afriad of what you would do if they ever stepped in the yard…You’re making up stories about those people. Make up a story where you have to live in their house, be one of their family, and pass by this road. Look at it from the other side for a while. Maybe you won’t be glaring at people so much.” (262)


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