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Bastard Out of Carolina - Dorothy Allison ”He pinned me between his hip and the sink, lifting me slightly and bending me over. I reached out and caught hold of the porcelain, trying not to grab at him, not to touch him. No. No. No. He was raging, spitting, the blows hitting the wall as often as they hit me. Beyond the door, Mama was screaming. Daddy Glen was grunting. I hate him. I hated him. The belt went up and came down. Fire along my thighs. Pain. I would not scream. I would not, would not, would not scream.”

Bone played by Jena Malone in the movie adaptation.

There was confusion when Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright was born. Her Mama, a fifteen year old girl without a husband, was recovering from a car wreck and from giving birth when the people with the paperwork came around. Bone’s Aunts tried to answer the questions, but because they could not remember exactly the name of the fellow who was the sperm donor the paperwork went through as UNKNOWN FATHER and Bone’s birth certificate is stamped in big red letters at the bottom. ILLEGITIMATE. Her mother tries for years to get that red stain removed from the birth certificate, but the people at the courthouse take too much malicious, petty joy out of continuing to issue each new birth certificate with the same damning stamp.

The Boatwright clan is a force of nature. The men are hard working, hard hitting, binge drinking, thieving, skirt chasing,and fast driving dervishes of fire and passion who when not fighting each other are fighting the world.They are intensely loyal, to a fault, to their friends and family. The Boatwright women name their daughters after their sisters. They name their sons after their brothers. They demand respect and get it. When Aunt Alma gets into a conflict with her husband she makes if very clear how she sees things. ”Oh, but that’s why I got to cut his throat,” she said plainly. “If I didn’t love the son of a bitch, I’d let him live forever.”Family get togethers are intensely emotional and always on the verge of song or violence. Uncle Earle is Bone’s favorite uncle. He is popular with the whole family brimming with charisma. He is the one guy everybody wants to see when they are troubled.


Uncle Earle played by Michael Rooker in the movie adaptation.

”Uncle Earle was my favorite of all my uncles. He was known as Black Earle for three counties around. Mama said he was called Black Earle for that black black hair that fell over his eyes in a great soft curl, but Aunt Raylene said it was for his black black heart. He was a good-looking man, soft-spoken and hardworking. He told Mama that all the girls loved him because he looked like Elvis Presley, only skinny and with muscles. In a way he did, but his face was etched with lines and sunburned a deep red-brown. The truth was he had none of the Elvis Presley’s baby-faced innocence; he had a devilish look and a body Aunt Alma swore was made for sex. He was a big man, long and lanky, with wide hands marked with scars. ‘Earle looks like trouble coming in on greased skids.’”

Now Bone’s Mama is married to one young man just long enough to get pregnant with Bone’s sister Reese. He died under unusual circumstances clearing the way for Glen Waddell. Glen comes from a good family, a family that owns their houses and goes into professions like lawyering and doctoring. Now Bone’s mother Anney is a beauty, fine boned and graceful, but compared to the type of women that a Waddell is expected to marry she is trash. Glen has never lived up to his father’s expectations and marrying Anney just confirms for their family that he is never going to amount to anything. He gets in fights. He intensely loves Anney; and yet ,can’t hardly stand to be in the same room with Ruth Anne without finding some “bone of contention”.

”I looked at his hands. No he never meant to hurt me, not really, I told myself, but more and more those hands seemed to move before he could think. His hands were big, impersonal, and fast. I could not avoid them. Reese and I made jokes about them when he wasn’t around--gorilla hands, monkey paws, paddlefish, beaver tails. My dreams were full of long fingers, hands that reached around doorframes and crept over the edge of the mattress, fear in me like a river, like the ice-dark blue of his eyes.”

Daddy Glen, as he insists on being called, swears he loves Bone, but when he is not beating her he is pulling her against him; rubbing her up and down his body; his hands inside her clothes. His mind is twisted with hate and unnatural desire a lethal combination that kills love.

Even though she can’t carry a tune, Bone wants to be a gospel singer. She loves the music, but what she really loves about religion is Revelations. It stokes the rage in her heart and gives her hope that everyone will get what’s coming to them.


”I sang along with the music and prayed for all I was worth. Jesus’ blood and country music, there had to be something else, something more to hope for. I bit my lip and went back to reading the Book of Revelation, taking comfort in the hope of the apocalypse, God’s retribution on the wicked. I liked Revelations, loved the Whore of Babylon and the promised rivers of blood and fire. It struck me like gospel music, it promised vindication.”

Bone loves her Mama so completely that she made me want to love her too. I just couldn’t forgive her. Sometimes when we are faced with something so horrible our brain chooses not to process that information. Anney knew, but didn’t want to know. Anney not only let Bone down, she let us all down. I know we can’t help who we fall in love with, but you have to love your children more. In the beginning, children are the best of us ,and how we protect them and nurture them will determine whether they continue to represent us to the world as better versions of ourselves or shattered adaptations of the worst of us.

Dorothy Allison

The plot is predictable, no deviations from a script that has been played before. Despite that I bumped it to four stars for the lovely descriptions of the Boatwright family. I felt that Allison has that Southern gift for language that soars especially well when she is describing people. The Boatwright’s are a family I’d be proud to be a part of and a family I’d work like crazy to get far, far away from.