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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 16, 1992|CHRIS GOODRICH

BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA by Dorothy Allison (Dutton: $20; 309 pp.) Here's hoping that the terrible title and colorless dust jacket won't encourage literary readers to pass up "Bastard Out of Carolina." Dorothy Allison, author of the short-story collection "Trash," has produced an enviably assured first novel; tough, plain-spoken, and thoroughly unsentimental, "Bastard" is a coming-of-age novel like no other--partly because the narrator, Bone, is just 13. Born into a family in which the men "love the chance to shoot strangers, drive trucks, and work on engines" and the women are equally strong but unable to keep their men in line, Bone has seen more trouble in a decade than most people do in a lifetime. Her personal suffering begins after Bone's mother falls in love with Glen, a shy, no-account laborer who appears to dote on Bone and her sister until he becomes their stepfather. The relationship then turns nightmarish for Bone, who can't bring herself to question adult actions, however wrong they seem. She internalizes her fear and anger instead, becoming a popular baby sitter for telling ghoulish stories of rape and murder. This synopsis may make the novel sound melodramatic, but Bone's narration is so matter-of-fact, and her evocation of white-trash lives so credible, that the story almost seems underplayed. This is a chilling novel, and one amazingly free of first-novel self-indulgence.

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