By telling her story through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old narrator, Dorothy Allison brings to light both the loss of self-respect engendered by abuse and the struggle for a sense of identity that is always a part of adolescence. Bone’s voice is powerful and poignant, replete with the accented slang of the poor South and the direct and unsentimentalized observations of the adolescent. Her voice is also honest, for Allison does not shy away from her narrator’s sexuality, openly depicting her masturbatory fantasies and, indeed, using their increasing violence to reflect the impact of Glen’s abuse. Perhaps most significant, however, Bone’s voice is vulnerable; through it, Allison creates an effective means of showing the fragility of such ostensibly stable ties as those among family members, between husbands and wives, and between mothers and daughters.

Although Allison situates her story in the domestic sphere, she does not romanticize domesticity. Each family is depicted accurately, never stereotyped in its poverty or pain. The Boatwright family stays together by telling itself stories of past violence and through a sense of necessity and combativeness engendered by poverty and ostracism. The Waddell family, despite its material privilege, is no better. The antagonism between Glen and his father and brothers, together with the Waddells’ snobbish hypocrisy toward Anney and her daughters, suggests that violence is not confined to the poor,...

(The entire section is 540 words.)