Bastard Out Of Carolina – Book Review

Bastard Out of Carolina is a disturbing novel about a little girl named Ruth Ann – who happens to be illegitimate and surviving in a world of poverty, drunks, petty criminals, and a pedophile whom her mother loves. Allison’s writing is good – and it kept me reading this depressing story. But, the story itself made me furious – which may have been Allison’s goal.

Years ago I worked as a child care worker with abused girls (mostly the victims of sexual molestation and rape) between the ages of six and thirteen. That job made me completely unsympathetic toward the cycle of abuse and the parents who knowingly put their kids in harms way. In Bastard Out of Carolina, Allison explores the cycle of abuse and demonstrates realistically how abused children grow up with self-hatred and anger…and ultimately become the purveyors of abuse themselves. I found myself empathetic toward Ruth Ann, even as she becomes progressively more disturbed and dangerous. My understanding of her mother, however, was limited. In one particularly horrific scene, we see how she is willing to sacrifice her child for her own selfish needs of love. It made me sick – and it is hard for me to understand how anyone can make the choices this particular mother makes.

The novel provides excellent characterization of Ruth Ann’s extended family, including the multitude of Aunts who have their own issues and problems. My frustration, however, was that no one really comes forth to rescue Ruth Ann. Perhaps my anger really stems from how often this is true in real life.

I have a hard time recommending this novel – it is bleak, depressing, and left me with the desire to hurl it out the window because of the anger it triggered. I really hated the ending. But, if you like to read about dysfunctional families and want to read good writing  that will conjure up lots of emotion, perhaps you will like the book.