In her discussion of Dorothy Allison's literary career in Feminist Writers, Deborah T. Meem writes, "For Allison, writing is a dramatic, life-affirming act in a world which consistently threatens death. A storyteller since childhood, Allison chronicles her discovery how … writing them [her most terrible stories] down gives her power of the experiences." Dorothy Allison has never been shy about the autobiographical background of her powerful first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina. Allison was born to a poor, "white trash" Southern family. Her stepfather sexually abused her for six years, starting when she was only five years old, and her mother, whom Allison deeply loved, was unable or unwilling to deal with this issue. Bastard Out of Carolina is not Allison's first important piece of writing, but for many readers, it remains her truest.
Allison recounts the story of Ruth Anne "Bone" Boatwright, the illegitimate daughter of a fifteen-year-old unmarried, uneducated waitress. Bone's mother, a child herself, desperately seeks love and familial stability, which she has never experienced in her own large, unorthodox brood of kin. Anney's need for love is so strong that she turns a blind eye to the abuse—physical, emotional, and sexual—that her second husband, Daddy Glen, heaps upon her young daughter. Before even reaching the age of thirteen, Bone has experienced a life's supply of disappointment, bitterness, self-hatred, and even hatred for her mother. If Bastard Out of Carolina sharply affects many readers because of the swell of truth behind the characters and their actions, that is partially Allison's intention. For Allison once explained what storytelling meant to her in an interview she gave to Alexis Jetter of the New York Times Magazine: "I believe that story-telling can be a strategy to help you make sense of your life. It's what I've done."