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.
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    • Anonymous on August 19, 2007 at 17:54

    You are so right, Wendy. I loved this book but hated the mother so much! To put your child in harm’s way to satisfy a man’s thirst… No. But what’s so sad is this book is kind of an autobiographical novel. Ruth Ann is Dorothy. But her mom and the stepdad doesn’t leave. I don’t know if I should recommend this book, but Dorothy Allison wrote another book called Trash that goes deeper into her story. It’s just as disturbing, especially when she tells you more about her extended family. It’s a miracle that she’s somewhat normal…. Happy birthday, Wendy!

    • Anonymous on August 19, 2007 at 18:53

    Sorry it wasn’t a good read but congrats on finishing.
    And Happy Birthday!

    • Anonymous on August 19, 2007 at 21:27

    Vasilly: I had no idea this was autobiographical – which makes it that much more sad to me. I get so distressed over the abuse of children – it gives me nightmares! Thank you for the birthday wishes!!

    • Anonymous on August 19, 2007 at 21:28

    Hi Amy – the subject matter and the realism of this novel is what turned me off (the writing is actually quite good). I’m happy to have finished another challenge! Thank you for the birthday wishes!!!

    • Anonymous on August 27, 2007 at 07:59

    I’m thrilled you finished the challenge! 😀
    It sounds like a tough one to stick with and does appeal to my once abused self. I’ll put it on my stack for a later date. These books are hard to digest but there is a whole world out there that needs and must discuss them.
    Happy Reading!

    • Anonymous on August 28, 2007 at 10:41

    Maggie – *nods* I can see where this book might be cathartic for some people – and it is not a bad book; just one that stirred up a lot of emotion for me! Thanks for hosting the challenge and giving me a good excuse to read the Southern books on my TBR shelf!

    • Anonymous on September 20, 2007 at 14:15

    Haven’t read the book yet; did see the film. In reviewing others’ opinions of the book came across an article which I feel directs the reader to understanding why the characters are the way they are, which I think is probably going to be the most intriguing part of the book, Allison’s narrative.
    The reader comments here were predictable in their distaste for the subject matter, especially toward Bone’s mother. There’s a whole lot more going on in this book apparently than a set of dysfunctional relationships, of the many tributaries meandering from an inescapable origin: flawed humanity. Here’s that link:

    • Anonymous on September 22, 2007 at 15:18

    Debbie, Thank you for that interesting essay! Yes, I think Allison is doing quite a bit in this book – she is clearly a gifted author and this essay gave me some additional insight into this book. I still hated the ending, though! *smiles*

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