Hello internet friends! Were you sad without a book to read for Autostraddle Book Club? Or did you instead experience an emotion approaching ‘happiness’ or ‘contentment’ because you weren’t reading a book where the protagonist was undergoing major life problems coupled with substance and/or other kinds of abuse? Well, either way, that time is over now. I know it’s been like forever or whatever, so here are the last two, in case you’ve forgotten what the deal is:
We’re going to read Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, which is kind of lesbian (and, like, actual contemporary literary) canon but which is also the first book in this series that I haven’t already read. So I’m right there with you guys! Laughing, crying, forgetting which page I left off on and accidentally reading over the same heartbreaking scene that made me have to put the book down temporarily last time! Oh I’m excited already. Important fact to note: continuing with an unintentional theme, this book deals in part with child abuse/sexual assault/rape, and if reading about those things is hurtful to you, please do not read this book.
If you feel like you can read about those things and be ok, then please do read this book, because I have read Two or Three Things I Know For Sure and I can tell you that Dorothy Allison is not fucking around. She is incredibly talented and pitiless; she tells her truth with precision and brutal honesty and also a kindness for herself and you, the reader, that is hard to forget. Here is one of my favorite passages from Two or Three Things:
They would come at me, those girls who were not really girls anymore. Grown up, wounded, hurt and terrible. Pained and desperate. Mean and angry. Hungry and unable to say just what they needed. Scared, aching, they came into my bed like I could fix it. And every time I would try. I would do anything a woman wanted as long as she didn’t want too much of me. As long as I could hide behind her need, I could make her believe anything. I would tell her stories. I would bury her in them. I have buried more women than I am willing to admit. I have told more lies than I can stand.
I never thought about what I needed, how hurt and desperate I was, how mean and angry and dangerous. When I finally saw it, the grief I had been hiding even from myself, the world seemed to stop while I looked. For a year, then another, I kept myself safe, away from anyone, any feeling that might prompt that rage, that screaming need to hurt somebody back…
Women lose their lives not knowing they can do something different. Men eat themselves up believing they have to be the thing they have been made. Children go crazy. Really, even children go crazy, believing the shape of the life they must live is as small and mean and broken as they are told.
– Dorothy Allison, Two Or Three Things I Know For Sure
We are not reading that book though, we are reading a different book, we are reading Bastard Out Of Carolina because I really wanna read it finally. It’s a fairly well-known novel even for people who aren’t huge homos, and was even made into a movie which I feel personally has the most incongruous movie poster/VHS cover of all time. I can’t tell you that you absolutely HAVE HAVE HAVE to read it. But Laneia and Sarah can!
She moved her brood of kids into an apartment building downtown, a second-floor frame walk-up with a shaky wide porch hanging off one side. No matter where she lived, Alma always had a porch.
I read Bastard Out of Carolina the same summer that I consumed Rubyfruit Jungle, To Kill a Mockingbird and most of Tipping the Velvet, among others. I don’t know — I was going through some feelings. The main theme of that summer was ‘Who the Fuck am I / What is This World.’ Dorothy Allison had been hyped up to some degree, so I didn’t expect to care about this Ruth Anne Boatwright, because of course I was above all hype, etc.
I read the book in one weekend. I read it on my steps in the pouring rain, chain-smoking and dying for a pimiento cheese sandwich. My accent came back. I started to remember what it had felt like to have to be mean sometimes — not because you were mean, but because the world was. I remembered not trusting anyone but your family and that isolation and vulnerability, but also strength. I mean, it was perfect, this book.
I don’t know how the south looks to people who didn’t sit on porches there all summer. I guess it can look romantic? Or even stupid? Dorothy Allison takes all of that away — the romance and the ignorance. Ruth Anne Boatwright is the furthest thing from stupid. She’s not precious or overstated either. The perfect balance of Bastard Out of Carolina is ridiculous.
I firmly believe that every lesbian in the world should read Bastard Out of Carolina. I would love if every human person in the world read it, but let’s get real, I met a guy last week who had never read a female author, so. In any case, if you like Autostraddle, I promise that you will love this book.
I personally connect with this book on a bunch of levels, not just in relation to sexuality. That’s certainly part of it; sexuality and “otherness” are strong undercurrents in Bastard, especially if you’re already tuned into that sort of thing. Beyond that, this is a story about family, in all it’s fucked up iterations. It’s about place (specifically the American South, but the lessons translate anywhere) and how the places we inhabit shape not only our lives but ourselves. It’s about being a strong woman and all that comes with it, the tough shit and the sisterhood alike. It’s about being an outcast. And can’t we all relate to that?
I would venture to call this book To Kill A Mockingbird for queers. It has a lot of the same soul, with a few twists. It gripped me in the same way; I picked it up and couldn’t put it down for days. This is the kind of novel you want to re-read every year, the kind you can’t get off your mind months after you’ve finished it. If you’re into gritty fiction with real substance that hits close to home, then “Bastard Out of Carolina” is required reading.
Book club meeting will be on, oh, May 16th. Just so that no one, including and perhaps especially myself, has an excuse not to have it read. Ok? Ok good. SEE YOU THEN.