Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
SPOILERS FOR DAYZZZ
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.
A truly depressing but beautifully written read. I liked the book a lot–it discuses the mechanics of people who strive for the perfect nuclear family and how the image itself is a fantasy rather than reality. The term “white trash” is also a prominent factor in the novel and the stereotypes that come along with it. Sex-gender roles are heavily installed and Allison creatively pens the toxic hyper-masculinity of Bone–the narrators–uncles and cousins and how tired and worn-out her Aunts are from dealing with the mens wild actions. Overall, a great novel–some warning–this is not a novel for the lighthearted.
We receive an introduction to the speaker and her extremely dysfunctional family the Boatwrights. The speaker highlights the trauma of her birth and her mother’s accident and the origin of her nickname “Bone.” We also understand that Bone is a bastard, which constantly embarrasses and angers her mother who tries to change it. Her mother, Anney, is very prideful and is heartbroken when Lyle, the father of her daughter Reese dies. The Boatwright is very poor and they depend on low-paying jobs, which have made the mother Anney determined to save her children from the poverty she constantly experienced. Finding a new man Glen, Anney is determined to marry him to provide Bone and Reese with a father.
Beginning this chapter with how her family rents houses instead of own, Bone expresses how much she loves the landscape but because of their poverty, they suffer. Bone also highlights the dynamic and the values her family shares. The uncles are described as hyper-masculine and handsome despite them being all alcoholics and having low-paying jobs. There are strict-gender roles in the family; the women dealt with the men’s antics and cleaned up after them–treating them like children. Bone talks lovingly about her Uncle Earle who is an alcoholic and very handsome, mentioning how women like danger. Also mentioning about her family, Bone notes how she has Cherokee features like her grandfather.
In this chapter, Bone focuses on body images and how they matter in her family. When a women are beautiful, she could acquire love and she admires how strong and muscular her uncles are. Noting Glen, Bone discusses how Glen does not have the typical masculine image despite his large hands. Bone also mentions how her mom is slowly falling for Glen and Glen’s obsession with Anney.
The day Glen and Anney marry, there are plenty of omens that forewarned the tragedies ahead. When Anney is revealed to be pregnant, Glen is very adamant about the sex of the baby being a boy. Anney’s family does not like Glen, noticing his obsessive qualities. While waiting for her mom to give birth, Glen sexually molests Bone, which eventually makes her confuse abuse and love. Glen is also devastated when the baby dies and Anney is left infertile.
After the trauma of losing the baby, Glen moves the family away from the Boatwrights, which isolates them from any support. While visiting Reese’s paternal grandmother, Bone cannot help but compare and contrast her own grandmother with Reese’s. Because Glen is constantly laid off, Bone and her family moves around frequently. Bone also highlights her frustration in response to the moving.
Because of Glen losing his jobs and the moving, Bone and her family experiences hunger in their poverty. Anney is devastated that Bone and Reese are starving and goes to great lengths to provide them food. Experiencing herself as a child, Anney might have gone to prostitute herself for money. When they constantly moved, Glen had this image of how they should live and choose rented houses that fit his criteria.
Anney explains to Bone why she does not want her to steal and is disappointed when she does steal candy. Because of her pride, Anney make Bone go back to the store to apologize and pay for the stolen candy. Opposite than the Boatwright’s, Glen’s family is well off and the rest of his brothers are successful. When Bone and her family visit Glen’s family, Bone notes the differences and the differences in their class.
At ten, Bone experiences her first beating by Glen. Anney is initially angry but then does blame Bone, asking her what did she do to incite his anger. Glen blames Bone for it and lies to Anney. While he begins to physically abuse her, he sexually molests her as he tries to control and possessive her. Bone blames herself eventually as Glen continues to abuse her and has violent fantasies and masturbates. When Bone is brought to the hospital after another beating, the doctor is aware that she has been abused and is frustrated.
Dealing with the abuse, Bone copes by telling gruesome stories and burying herself in books. Spending time with her Aunt Ruth, who is slowly dying from cancer, Bone indirectly reveals that Glen sexually abused her. Glen becoming in a better mood after his dead hooks him up with a job, Bone slowly pulls away from her family. Anney is convinced that Glen is a good man but her love for him might be because of her own need to be needed and loved.
Becoming obsessed with religion and gospel music, Bone amerces herself in God because she believes she needs to be saved. Aunt Ruth’s daughter Deedee resents her mother and is not thrilled to have to take care of her. Bone does try to spread her knowledge of religion to her family and is met with teasing.
When a girl from school, Shannon Pearl is teased on the bus, Bone offers her a seat. Bone soon learns that Shannon is resentful towards anyone who deems her ugly because she is albino. Shannon also tells horrible stories to cope, like Bone does but Shannon’s family is strangely delicate. The friendship ends when Shannon insults Bone and her family, which makes Bone turn violent and attack her and calls her ugly.
In this chapter, Bone reflects how much her and Reese have grown up, especially Reese who has become a tomboy and there is now a tension between them. Resse has also begun to masturbate as well and Bone is interested that she does it. We later learn that they both do it for the same reasons: so they can intertwine both violence and pain. When Glen is upset about work, instead of Anney confronting him, he sends Bone away to her Aunt Raylene, who is different from her other aunts. Raylene is more masculine and independent and Bone begins to crave her Aunt’s attention and praise. Sadly, Bone finds a chain and hook and begins to masturbate with it.
After their fight, Shannon Pearl calls Bone a few times to come to her family barbeque. We also learn that Uncle Earle is back in jail. Bone feels bad when she realizes Shannon has no friends and her cousins are mean to her and goes over to her but is too late when Shannon sets herself on fire.
Bone is upset after Shannon’s death and feels guilty. Reese and Patsy-Ruth, her cousin, have become closer and Bone relates her own body and her worn-down aunts. Glen continues to be verbally abusive to Bone and in turn, Bone blames herself and wishes she could be beautiful. There is an acknowledged gender-roles between her and her cousins, especially when it comes to playing games. The twins Gravey and Gray seem to be the most masculine of the younger cousins and begin to segregate the girl cousins.
Bone visits Uncle Earle in jail who does not look like his usual cocky self. Raylene also comes along and does not understand Bone’s and the other kids adoration of their uncles who are ultimately losers. Bone and Grey sneak into the Woolworth building and Bone falls but gets a thrill from stealing with her cousin.
After the mission with Grey, Bone is nervous about being found out. The family goes through a travesty when Aunt Ruth finally dies, which upsets Bone. Anney reminisces about her Aunt Ruth, claiming that Aunt Ruth raised her and the others and how Aunt Ruth did not think she did not matter because she was not pretty.
Bone tries to get through Aunt Ruth’s death and wishes she could have told her everything about Glen. Glen later beats Bone very badly and Anney blames Bone once again, which makes Bone believe she is the problem and not Glen. Aunt Ruth’s daughter Deedee does not want to go to the funeral but Aunt Raylene shakes some sense into her and believes that she will regret it if she does not go. Earle is able to go to the funeral and he brings a very young and naïve girl with him as his date. Aunt Ruth’s son, Butch, comes to the funeral, gives Bone liquor to drink and kisses her. Bone becomes drunk, which means alcohol is another form of self-abuse for Bone in that moment because she likes feeling numb. Aunt Raylene finds Bone drunk and finds the marks of Glen’s abuse on her. In anger, Bone’s Uncle beat Glen up badly and Bone is upset that everyone found out. Anney is devastated and admits that she wanted to have a normal family
Anney moves out the house with the girls and Bone blames herself for everything and Reese resents. Anney feels guilty over what happened to Bones and isolates herself away from their family. Depressed, Bone masturbates to another violent image. When the beating occurred, it was strange that some of the aunts felt bad for Glen, believing that Anney should give him another chance. Bone has become resentful about love after watching what he mother has gone through and to add more travesty, Aunt Alma’s daughter dies.
Obviously devastated, Aunt Alma goes “crazy” when Uncle Wade does want to have another child with her and verbally abuses her. All the men believe that women are “crazy”, which is a redundant myth that has gone against women. Anney is able to empathize because she lost a baby too and her and Bone help her. Bone tells her mother that she refuses to go back home with Glen and is aware that her mother will go back.
Anney claims says she is not going back, which is something no one truly believes.
Luckily, Alma has become slowly better from her meltdown and no longer wants to kill her husband. Glen comes over to bring Bone back home. Glen demands that Bone goes home so that Anney can and they can be a “family.” Glen then violently beats and rapes her to teach her a lesson but Anney comes in and beats Glen and saves Bone. Bone finally feels safe until she is in the car but when Glen breaks down, Anney holds him and cries. Bone is disgusted that her mother could console her rapist, truly proving how broken Anney is.
Bone notes her family’s legacy with them being on the news, including how it is always something negative as she notes her battered form is now on the news. The Deputy confronts and asks Bone questions but she does not trust him. Raylene swoops in a supports Bone to protect her, taking charge of her because her mother left.
Raylene takes charge of Bone because Anney is gone, which is truly awful. Bone is understandably depressed and full of hate. Raylene tells Bone of her regrets and her relationship with a woman and claims that Anney loves her and that she will be back.
Her Uncles try to cheer her up and they want to avenge Bone, which pleases her.
Anney does come back but she tells Bone she loves her and leaves her with an envelope with her birth certification claiming she is not a bastard anymore. The ending is extremely sad because it proves how the nuclear family can ruin a family and how domestic abuse can a destroy a woman so thoroughly that she can abandon her child and embrace her daughter’s rapist.