“The grief. The anger. The guilt and the shame. It would come back later. It would come back forever. We had all wanted the simplest thing, to love and be loved and be safe together, but we had lost it and I didn’t know how to get it back.”
This is the story of Bone (Ruth Anne). It is told in her voice – a strong, heart-breaking voice. It is Bone’s story of growing up in poverty in Carolina. It is a story of childhood abuse – physical and sexual.
We come to know intimately Bone’s experiences of being part of a poor, extended family in America’s south, which is told exquisitely by Dorothy Alison. We become immersed in this family – its trial and tribulations, its warmth and connectiveness.
But it is not a ‘nice’ family. It is a macho world where her uncles are proud of their violent reputations, consistently getting into brawls, drink heavily and are always in and out of jail.
But it is the aunts that we are drawn to. This community of women who are immersed in poverty, struggling to survive, who are there for each other, who support and care for each other. They are strong women. We get to know them intimately through Bone’s eyes. These are women who are the core of Bone’s life.
Bone is subjected to episodes of extreme violence and sexual abuse by her step-father. Her mother becomes increasingly aware of the violence and attempts to protect her such as ensuring that Bone is not left alone with him. But of course the abuse continues.
What is told so poignantly in this book, are Bone’s feelings and experiences – her grief, her shame, her anger – and her desire to protect her mother and her happiness.
As Dorothy Allison says in the Afterword:
“I made her brave and stubborn and resilient. I made her want to protect her little sister and her mother. I made her a child full of hope as well as despair; and while I worked carefully at all the ways she learned to hate herself, I also made it plain to the reader that she was not hateful in any way.”
This book does not have a happy ending. I fought against the inevitable result. But I was left feeling hope for Bone – hope that she would survive, hope that her gritty determination would lead to a happier life.
I applaud Dorothy Allison’s courage in bringing Bone’s story to us, and for the empathy and understanding that she sensitively and skilfully she shows – for she is writing for all of the children who suffer horrendous abuse and violence.
However, the Afterword also tells us that this book has been banned in several school districts in America.
Dorothy Allison responds:
“I want the society in which I live to be clear about the reality of our families; to know all the ways in which we avoid the issues of violence, abuse, and societal contempt; and to see survivors as more than victims. If we know more about what it means to survive abuse, we will better able those still caught in the whole shameful secret world of physical and sexual violence.”
This book is a beautiful book. It is heartbreaking to read. But it is a courageous testament to women and children who suffer at the hands of male violence.