Dorothy Allison Criticism - Essay

Gale Harris (review date Spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ashamed and Glorified,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 8, No. 3, Spring, 1993, pp. 4–6.

[In the following review, Harris offers a positive assessment of Bastard Out of Carolina, noting the novel's vivid descriptions and skillful use of vernacular.]

Bastard Out of Carolina is a novel wrung from the heart. Here in Greenville County, South Carolina, members of the extended Boatwright family often subsist on flour-and-water biscuits and move from one ramshackle house to another. Men drown their disappointments in the fleeting sweetness of life in drink and brawls, and women hide their disappointment in their menfolk behind a bitter indulgence of male...

(The entire section is 778 words.)

E. J. Graff (review date September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Nothing but the Truth,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 12, September, 1994, pp. 10–11.

[In the following positive review, Graff praises Allison for writing about such controversial subject matter in Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, & Literature.]

I moved East in 1980, fresh from a small-town university “women's” community whose worst splits were over who'd slept with whose girlfriend. So I was surprised when, in Boston, I saw odd, wounded looks on women's faces when they talked—or declined to talk—about recent political history. Someone's restaurant had been boycotted and failed. Someone else refused to meet me, ever, at the women's...

(The entire section is 1707 words.)

Dorothy Allison with Carolyn E. Megan (interview date Fall 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Moving toward Truth: An Interview with Dorothy Allison,” in Kenyon Review, Vol. 16, No. 4, Fall, 1994, pp. 71–83.

[In the following interview, Allison and Megan discuss Allison's past and the parallels between her life and works.]

In March 1993 Dorothy Allison's novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, nominated for the 1992 National Book Award, had just been published in paperback, and she was at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on a reading tour. She answered the door to her posh suite dressed in T-shirt and jeans saying, “Look at this place! Grace Paley stayed in this room!” Readers were lining up in city after city to hear her read,...

(The entire section is 5714 words.)

Carla Tomaso (review date 1 January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Never the Good Girl,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 1, 1995, pp. 3, 9.

[In the following positive review of Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, & Literature, Tomaso commends Allison's bravery and skill at personal introspection.]

Dorothy Allison loves sex. She also loves writing, women, justice, Southern landscape, literature, her family and truth. It is this huge capacity for passion that makes her work so challenging. Her raw honesty makes it so intimate it's almost too painful to read. The author of the National Book Award Finalist Bastard Out of Carolina and Trash, a collection of short stories, has written a book of...

(The entire section is 1118 words.)

Dorothy Allison with Minnie Bruce Pratt (interview date March 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Progressive Interview: Dorothy Allison,” in Progressive, Vol. 59, No. 7, July, 1995, pp. 30–34.

[In the following interview, originally conducted in March 1995, Allison discusses how racism, illiteracy, Southern working-class stereotypes, and her lesbianism affect her life and her writing.]

On a cold rainy Boston afternoon in March, I was curled up on Dorothy Allison's bed, eating chocolate, gossiping, and talking books with this charismatic author, who wrote the award-winning novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, and the short-story collection, Trash. Her most recent book is Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, & Literature.


(The entire section is 6254 words.)

Walter Kendrick (essay date July 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Fiction in Review,” in Yale Review, Vol. 84, No. 3, July, 1996, pp. 162–67.

[In the following essay, Kendrick explores the balance between the autobiographical and the fictional elements in Allison's works.]

In Dorothy Allison's five books, she has never repeated herself. She has published a volume of poems (The Women Who Hate Me, 1983), a collection of short stories (Trash, 1988), a novel (Bastard Out of Carolina, 1992), a collection of essays (Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, & Literature, 1994), and an unclassifiable book “written for performance” (Two or Three Things I Know for Sure,). Although Allison ranges...

(The entire section is 2369 words.)

Jillian Sandell (essay date 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Telling Stories of ‘Queer White Trash’: Race Class and Sexuality in the Work of Dorothy Allison,” in White Trash: Race and Class in America, Routledge, 1997, pp. 211–30.

[In the following essay, Sandell explores the class distinctions and prejudices in the works of Dorothy Allison, noting that even specialized communities (e.g., lesbian and gay communities, racial groups) have class-based biases and fears.]

The stories I told about my family, about South Carolina, about being poor itself, were all lies, carefully edited to seem droll or funny.

Dorothy Allison1


(The entire section is 7677 words.)

Susan Salter Reynolds (essay date 2 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Dorothy Allison: A Family Redeemed,” in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 245, No. 9, March 2, 1998, pp. 44–45.

[In the following essay, Reynolds discusses Allison's childhood and literary career, including excerpts from an interview with Allison.]

Back in 1992, when Dorothy Allison burst into the literary limelight with her bestselling novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, she dubbed herself the “Roseanne of Literature.” That shocking, autobiographical story of a young girl in the South who is raped and beaten by her stepfather helped open the floodgates to the rush of memoirs that has since poured into American bookstores. Allison's audience flocked to her...

(The entire section is 2097 words.)

Phyllis Richardson (review date 15 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Spelunking,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 15, 1998, p. 8.

[In the following negative review, Richardson expresses her disappointment with Cavedweller, describing the novel as unconvincing, overly dramatic, and lacking focus.]

Dorothy Allison put the dirt into dirty realism: real dirt and poverty and violence. In her first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, she re-created the controlled hysteria of a household that frequently erupts with beatings and sexual abuse. Unlike people who have capitalized on the shock value of such stories, Allison succeeded in directing generations of brutality, anger and disgust into a cogent, skillfully...

(The entire section is 1180 words.)

Joann Wypijewski (review date 30 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Joplin Sings Georgia,” in Nation, Vol. 266, No. 11, March 30, 1998, pp. 25–27.

[In the following positive review of Cavedweller, Wypijewski praises Allison's ability to create fully fleshed, multifaceted characters that have both unlikable and redeeming qualities.]

Up a dirt road in a graveyard in Guilford, Vermont, a marker worn from the rains of 200 years commemorates a life just this way: “A tired woman in a weary land.” Alongside are the headstones of the four children she buried—the opening and closing lines of her untold story, one that will never be old enough. There's no antiquity to the silence that wraps around grief. It is...

(The entire section is 2026 words.)

Katrina Irving (essay date Spring 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Writing It Down So That It Would Be Real’: Narrative Strategies in Dorothy Allison's Bastard,” in College Literature, Vol. 25, No. 2, Spring, 1998, pp. 94–107.

[In the following essay, Irving analyzes Bastard Out of Carolina in relation to the conventional realist style versus the genre of “accepted” lesbian literature.]

Lesbian representation is not simply a matter of making lesbianism visible. … Women of the baby-boom generation, the founders of women's music and culture, believed that they could construct a collective sense of what it meant to be a lesbian, and also develop representations of that collective...

(The entire section is 6581 words.)

Kathlene McDonald (essay date Spring–Summer 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Talking Trash, Talking Back: Resistance to Stereotypes in Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina,” in Women's Studies Quarterly, Vol. 26, Nos. 1–2, Spring–Summer, 1998, pp. 15–25.

[In the following essay, McDonald explores the literary techniques that Allison employs in Bastard Out of Carolina to give the reader a deeper and more sympathetic understanding of her characters.]

They were of a kind not safely to be described in an account claiming to be unimaginative or untrustworthy, for they had too much and too outlandish beauty not to be legendary. Since, however, they existed quite irrelevant to myth, it will...

(The entire section is 4160 words.)

Mark Greif (review date 28 August 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Legends of Rock,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4978, August 28, 1998, p. 21.

[In the following mixed review, Greif argues that although the opening of Cavedweller holds promise, the various characters and their life experiences eventually become tangential and repetitive.]

The path of the West Coast rock star from rural obscurity to premature death makes one of the most alluring and persistent of American stories. A miserable, small-town childhood sets the myth in motion. There is a frigid, authoritarian father; torment at the hands of schoolyard bullies; escape through music. At the other end of the arc, the rock star's demise retains an air...

(The entire section is 732 words.)

Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon (essay date Fall 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Born on the Wrong Side of the Porch’: Violating Traditions in Bastard Out of Carolina,” in Southern Folklore, Vol. 55, No. 2, Fall, 1998, pp. 133–44.

[In the following essay, Donlon examines the significance of the front porch as a symbol of privacy and escape in Bastard Out of Carolina.]

Ever since the first American gallery appeared in 1702, and until its decline with the coming of air-conditioning, the front porch has been for Southerners “a shady transition between indoors and out where one [can] relax and sip iced tea, talk with a friend on the swing, or eat summer suppers” (Oszuscik 1992:1; Moore, et al. 1983:24). Indeed, even as...

(The entire section is 5028 words.)

Vincent King (essay date Fall 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Hopeful Grief: The Prospect of a Postmodernist Feminism in Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina,” in Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 33, No. 1, Fall, 2000, pp. 122–40.

[In the following essay, King explores the postmodern and feminist aspects of Bastard Out of Carolina.]

Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina is a lyrical yet fiercely disturbing portrait of a South Carolina family besieged by poverty, violence, and incest. Narrated by young Ruth Anne Boatwright—or Bone as she is called by her family—the novel begins, ordinarily enough, with her birth and early years and quickly focuses on the relationship between Bone and her violent...

(The entire section is 8134 words.)