On the one hand this book is both really funny and insightful in some significant ways; but on the other hand, it’s a kind of accidentally disturbing book than plays in some ordinary misogyny and casual sexual abuse. Fun!
There’s a movie version of this starring Laura Dern in the title role and Robert Duvall as the father, with Lukas Haas as the adolescent narrator. The novel takes place in Georgia during the Great Depression. Our narrator is an adolescent in a more or less well-off upper middle class family. His parent decide that in light of the Depression, they will take on a kind of ward, a teenage girl who will live with them, have some stability in her life, and be able to look for work and the next stages of her life. If you’re thinking that bringing in a 19 year old into the house of a middle-aged but attractive father and also a 13 year old boy, well your radar is accurately tuned. We find out very early that Rose is both incredibly naive, but also kind of preternaturally sexual. Look, I know. I know what you’re thinking, and you are correct. She is a screen on which to project the sexuality of the men in this book, and the book does know this, or least it more or less knows this. So the exercise of this throughout the book is pretty uncomfortable, and at times painful, especially when there’s an awkward and unfortunate sexual encounter between Rose and the narrator.
But at the same time, and this doesn’t make this novel complicated really, but unfortunate, is that there’s some really quality writing and insight happening here. If this novel had not been filmed, I bet there wouldn’t have been a reprint, and I bet we don’t see it in reprint any time soon.