Greenville County, South Carolina, is home to the Boatwright family - rough-hewn men who drink hard and shoot up each other's trucks, and indomitable women who marry young and age all too quickly. At the heart of this astonishing novel is Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone, a South Carolina bastard with an annotated birth certificate to tell the tale.
Observing everything with the mercilessly keen eye of a child, Bone finds herself caught in a family triangle that will test the loyalty of her mother, Anney. Her stepfather, Daddy Glen, calls Bone "cold as death, mean as a snake, and twice as twisty", yet Anney needs Glen "like a strong woman needs meat between her teeth". At first gentle with Bone, Daddy Glen becomes steadily colder and more furious - until their final, harrowing encounter, from which there can be no turning back.
Written in a mesmerizing voice that mingles the languid rhythms of country music with raw, unsparing descriptions of emotional and physical violence, this moving novel marks the emergence of an extraordinarily gifted writer.
Allison's remarkable country voice emerges in a first novel spiked with pungent characters ranging from the slatternly to the grotesque, and saturated with sense of place -- Greenville, S.C. Ruth Anne Boatwright, 13, got the nickname "Bone" at birth, when she was tiny as a knucklebone, and the tag acquires painful derivatives, like "Bonehead.'' While her mother, Annie, a waitress, tries vainly to get the word "illegitimate'' scrubbed from Bone's birth certificate, her tobacco-spitting granny reminds her she's a bastard. The identity of her real father, whom granny drove away, is kept from her. Surrounded by loving aunts and uncles, Bone still endures ridicule (she's homely, she has no voice for gospel singing) and -- from vicious Daddy Glen, her mother's new husband -- beatings and sexual abuse. Bone takes refuge in petty crime, like breaking into Woolworth's, and finds her truest friend in unmarried Aunt Raylene, who once had a great love for another woman. Annie gently defends Daddy Glen, blaming her daughter, until the tale's inevitably brutal climax. Mental and physical cruelty to women forms a main theme, illuminated by the subplot of pathetic albino Shannon Pearls, her story rife with Southern gothic overtones. Allison, author of the well-received short story collection "Trash," doesn't condescend to her "white trash'' characters; she portrays them with understanding and love.