Cavedweller Essay - Critical Essays

Cavedweller

Readers familiar with Dorothy Allison’s critically acclaimed bestseller, BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA (1992), will recognize many of the same themes in her novel CAVEDWELLER; most especially, her interest in the lapses of judgment, passionate excesses, and plain stupidity with which unthinking and confused adults often burden the young and innocent children in their care.

CAVEDWELLER begins with the death of Delia Byrd’s second husband, Randall Pritchard, and recounts her painful attempt to reclaim the two daughters she abandoned in Cayro, Georgia, when she left her abusive husband for that sweet-talking man and a ten year blues career with the itinerant rock and roll band Mud Dog. It is also the story of her third daughter Cissy, catapulted into an unfamiliar family drama by her father’s death and her mother’s powerful urge to go back home and reconstruct her prior life.

Allison’s book is a study in what makes women so good at singing the blues: loss and abandonment, domestic violence, the death of loved ones, the false allure of the highway, broken and unbreakable family ties, booze and the enduring kindness of friends. Allison confronts all these themes with preternatural objectivity, unflinching honesty in the face of taboo subjects, and a new and refreshing empathy for all of her deeply flawed characters.

Cissy, the cavedweller of the title, not unlike Scout in Harper Lee’s classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1960), teaches the reader a great deal about life while attending to her own coming of age amidst the raucous, demanding voices of her mostly out-of-control elders.

Sources for Further Study

Artforum. XXXVI, March, 1998, p. S30.

Booklist. XCIV, February 1, 1998, p. 876.

Library Journal. CXXIII, March 1, 1998, p. 125.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 15, 1998, p. 8.

The Nation. CCLXVI, March 30, 1998, p. 25.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, March 15, 1998, p. 19.

Newsweek. CXXXI, March 30, 1998, p. 66.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, January 19, 1998, p. 369.

Time. CLI, April 13, 1998, p. 221.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, April 5, 1998, p. 1.