Bloggers Banter: Bastard Out of Carolina

Julie and I did another buddy read and post on Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. Read our conversation below:

Christine: First of all, I have to admit that I read this when I was probably sophomore or so in high school and didn't remember how intense, and graphic, it was! It was on a recommended reading list from an English teacher and I thought it would be funny to put a book with the word "bastard" on my Christmas list. Nonetheless, as an adult I thought it was heartbreaking, powerful,  and well-written. 

Julz: I can’t even believe you read this as a 14-year-old.  I do have to admit, it probably would have made me feel less guilty about certain things I felt as an adolescent had I read it at that age. 

But good heavens, the rape scene was pretty much the most terrible chapter ever. And I’ve read some graphic stuff (American Psycho, The Painted Bird).  Even typing the words Daddy Glen makes me nauseous.  

Christine: I think Bone's mother, Annie, was one of the most frustrating, infuriating characters in the text for me that I really had to push myself to feel any sort of empathy for (she chose to basically ignore the fact that her husband was abusing her daughter). What about you? 

Julz: Yup, infuriating is the word I would have used, too.  But (playing devil’s advocate here), she was seduced at 14, a mother by 15, a widow at 19, and married to an abusive douche at 21. Tragedy piled on top of tragedy.  Ultimately, though, she was the enabler, and I know well enough that those are the worst kinds of people.  

Christine: I think that's a good point, that she was so much younger than she seems. The circumstances of her life aged her so quickly, and while that does make me muster up some sympathy I still think there is some sort of inherent maternal right/wrong one would have hoped she'd developed. I guess her leaving Bone at the end was really the only thing she was capable of doing to help her daughter.

One interesting theme that stood out to me was the emphasis on physical beauty. So much time was spent describing characters, evaluating whether they were good looking, etc… They lacked the means to provide better lives for themselves, but being naturally attractive was free. What did you make of the running commentary on appearances?

Julz: (in response to Christine’s most English teacher question so far) Beauty is a commodity.  If it helped Anney earn more tips, so be it.  Uncle Earle probably got let off the hook more often than not because he had handsome features and knew how to flaunt them.

Christine: This book is quite episodic. So many of them stood out to me- the whole chapter on theft, her aunt's nervous breakdown, and her relationship with Shannon. What about you?

Julz: I certainly didn’t think Shannon would meet her end as she did!  That was a helluva punchline for that episode.  My favorite was the break-in at Woolworth’s.  I could not figure out the dredge/grappling hook obsession until I realized how nefarious it could actually be.  The episodic nature reminded me a little of Owen Meany, except without the symbolism.  Speaking of, we encountered Wheelwrights in Irving and now we have Boatwrights…

Christine: Besides Bone, I really loved Uncle Earle. He of course had some less-than-redeeming qualities, but I appreciated his protective nature and honesty. Who did you gravitate towards?

Julz: Aunt Raylene is the one I connected with and admired most.  Probably because of her stoicism.  I figured her out from the get-go, but she still had a mysterious aura.  I loved her independence and resourcefulness.  She wasn’t maternal, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t fiercely defend her family.

Speaking of family, the Aunt factor here had a bit in common with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  And Bone and Francie are both good students who escape into books.  Did any other similarities resonate with you?

Christine: I can see that, now that you mention it. I hope that Bone was able to use her bookish tendencies to escape poverty. And aunts in general are often an interesting sort of archetype- a romanticized version of the mother. I remember when I was young I adored one of my mom's sisters. I thought she was so much cooler than my mom (sorry, mom), but in retrospect she was actually so similar, just in better clothes and the ability to be more patient because I wasn't her kid.

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