Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
This book is incredibly violent and almost unbearably sad and depressing, but it’s one of those rare, great, sad books that are worth the pain they put a reader through. It gives a harrowing view inside an extended family suffering from generational poverty, addiction, abuse, and incest. Almost every imaginable horrible thing that could happen to a family, happens to this one, pretty much all at once.
The novel’s language is funny and witty, full of country idioms and local South Carolina flavor. It’s a voice-driven novel narrated by a young girl called Bone, the “bastard” of the title. Bone is painfully self-aware, expressing precocious insight into adult relationships, rage at her parents, and almost bottomless shame for her victimization.
The novel’s main conflict is between Bone and Daddy Glen, her mother’s second husband. Glen abuses Bone physically and sexually, and her mother allows it to happen, partly because she doesn’t have many other options, and partly because she loves Glen too much to leave, even though she knows it means her daughter suffers. As she struggles to escape Glen, Bone immerses herself in a destructive friendship with a strange evangelical girl, and lives with several other relatives, in turns. She finds moments of peace with her Aunt Ruth and her garden and gospel and country music records. It’s impossible not to feel for her and root for her, even when she makes bad choices in her fight for safety and freedom. Bone is the book’s main attraction and its center. She is our window into her family’s suffering, and the reason we care to look.