I read Dorothy Allison's shorter, vignette-like work Two or Three Things I Know for Sure before this, her breakout novel. They tread many of the same themes, both being somewhat autobiographical. This one is somewhat fictionalized, that one invokes a meta-narrative that bridges the gap between growing up as Bone and becoming a feminist writer. Throughout "Two or Three Things" Allison interrupts the narrative with short words of wisdom that she "knows for sure". One sticks with me:
“Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I'd rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me.”
The story of Bone in Bastard Out of Carolina is a tailor's pattern-cut and -hemmed dummy mock-up of the coat the world would have Allison wear. It is an angry, unapologetic, sometimes bitter but unresigning portrait of a girl treated like no person should be, among people who are no stranger to hardship themselves. They don't have much to begin with, and then she suffers even worse.
Ultimately, it's a story that has been told in some manner before, and it is difficult for me to tell whether the repetition or the work itself made it less personally compelling. The strength of the writer's voice is unignorable, however. There are occasional moments of particular loveliness that she manages to capture among the slovenliness:"We lived on one porch or another all summer long, laughing at Little Earle, teasing the boys and picking over beans, listening to stories, or to the crickets beating out their own soft songs. When I think of that summer...I always feel safe again. No place has ever seemed so sweet and quiet, no place ever felt so much like home."
We understand her feeling of alienation and unrootedness later. We see histories of mistreatment by men, of women in general. But the strength of these narratives come from the knowledge of what she lost, paralleling that descent from a form of paradise that many of us can relate to in one form or another.