Ok so there’s a whole sub-genre of American lit we could call the “Rough South” a name which one of my all time favorite college professors use to describe works by Dorothy Allison, Larry Brown, Harry Crews, Lee Smith, Tim Gautreaux, William Gay and various others in this cohort.
These books breathe life into the bull**** factors abound in Hillbilly Elegy. These are the books that actually show life, perceived through eyes that know how to find the humanity but also the horror in the lives described. And God love you if you pick up a novel narrated by a child, because it’s about to get rough.
“Bone” comes from a big family in Greenville, South Carolina with blurred lines around the edges. She lives a life where she gets shuffled from family member to family member just as a matter of course meeting the different parts of her family and living with them both as a learning experience but also as a way to give her young mother space. She’s 9-13 in this novel, born to a teen mom, a voracious reader, full of love, as well as angst. And of course the worst that the world has to offer is visited upon her.
There’s a few scenes of stark and disturbing violence in this book and they take two distinct forms. Violence as a consequence of living this kind of life, and violence as an acute reaction to living this kind of life.
The writing is bare, the narration is heartfelt, and her voice and her love of life and literature is very infectious. For a book so disturbing at its core, it reads in such a fast-paced manner. It’s a lot like various novels written by women who come from meager means, blended families, and violence.