Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Nevermore: Dorothy Allison, Louisa May Alcott, Douglas Blackmon, Cat Warren

Reported by Jeanne

 Our first Nevermore member was very excited to share two novels by Dorothy Allison.  She felt Allison’s writing is wonderful, and that she does an incredible job of portraying the lives of people some would call “poor white trash”—impoverished people whose lives are marred by violence and substance abuse.

 Allison’s first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, is narrated by Ruth Ann, a young girl whose nickname is Bone.  Born out of wedlock, Bone’s mother Anny is anxious to get her birth certificate altered to disguise her status.  Anny is now married to Glen, who has a tempestuous relationship with Bone in this gritty, riveting novel set in South Carolina. 

Our reader was so impressed that she picked up Cavedweller by the same author.  A decade ago, Delia had fled an abusive relationship in Georgia for California, leaving behind her two young daughters.  Now Richard, the rock musician who helped her leave, has been killed in an accident so Delia heads back to Georgia with a bewildered third daughter in tow.  She’s desperate to forge some sort of relationship with the daughters she left behind, but she will have to face the judgment of the family.  Several characters narrate the story, each bringing a different viewpoint to events. Our reviewer felt that the novel's strength was in the depiction of a network of extended family, especially the strong women who survive in this hardscrabble environment. As with the first novel, Allison excels in her descriptions and rich characterization.  Our reader suggested that these books would be good to read along with Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.

In need of something lighter, she then picked up Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase which she said is wonderful and a must read.   Written before the success of Little Women, this is one of Alcott’s “blood and thunder” novels which was rejected at the time for being “too sensational.”  The plot seems modern, in fact:  a young woman falls in love and marries a man who turns out not to be what he seemed, and tries to escape.  The ending is a bit weak, but it was still a most enjoyable book.

Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon elicited a long discussion as the next reader detailed how post- Civil War African Americans were still held in virtual slavery.  A person could be jailed for any number of minor offenses—vagrancy, failing to pay for a train ticket, etc.—and sentenced to work for the state, a corporation, or a farm.  The labor was hard, conditions were horrendous, and many died as a result. 

Our next reviewer had picked up Liberty’s Blueprint by Michael Meyerson but found that reading how Hamilton and Madison wrote the Federalist Papers just was not holding her attention.  Instead she turned to What the Dog Knows:  The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs by Cat Warren because it had a handsome German Shepard on the cover.  She said it was fascinating, blending research about how dogs and other animals have been trained to help humans.  Intertwined with the overview is the story of Warren’s own work with Solo, a German Shepard who is trained as a cadaver dog. It’s a wonderful book, our reader said, and recommended it to any reader.

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