Go to Homepage   Dorothy Allison: Cavedweller

 

Crescent Blues Book ViewsDutton, Penguin Group (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0965038724
With Cavedweller, Dorothy Allison fights the "second novel" curse and wins. New authors think the hard part of getting published comes with the first book. But the real test lies with the second. Although acclaim for this book falls short of Allison's first, Bastard Out of Carolina, it stands up to critics' scrutiny -- at least this critic. I come to this book late. Its first release date, 1998, makes this book practically a classic.

Book: dorothy allision, cavedweller
Allison, the patron saint of battered women, knows the subject matter first hand. Raised in the 1950s and 60s, she and her dysfunctional family predate women's shelters and rape crisis centers. When asked about her mother and sisters, she admits, "Someone should have taken us out of that house."

Cavedweller tells the story of Delia Byrd, a young woman orphaned, raised by an authoritarian grandfather, married young to an abusive husband and driven to commit the unforgivable sin -- abandoning her baby daughters. Randall Pritchard, on bus tour with his band Mud Dogs, saves Delia, takes her to California where she joins the group and gathers fans to her pain-filled, voice. Only song and liquor relieve the constant ache for her abandoned daughters.

The book opens with the ominous proclamation "Death changes everything," followed by Randall's death scene. Next readers experience Delia's marathon road trip across the country and back in time to her hometown, Cayro, Ga. She drags along Cissy, her daughter by Randall. Delia determinedly overlooks the spiteful, unforgiving former neighbors and family, faces her first husband, and reclaims daughters Amanda and Dede. Forgiveness comes grudgingly and at a high cost. Allison takes us through each painful step.

Book: dorothy allision, two ro three things that i know for sure
The book, as with many second books, contains just about everything but the kitchen sink. OK, this one includes the kitchen sink and an obsession with cleaning, refinishing and washing laundry. But somehow Allison links the unrelated and makes it all work, with a satisfying, hopeful ending. No saccharin here -- no God rescues the believers, and no man who rescues the damsels in distress.

Delia provides for her family and re-enters the community through her hairstyling ability. Seems that Delia always finds an outstanding, yet unexpected talent or staunch friend, to fall back on, which lends a fairy tale quality and undermines the book's strength.

The women who oppose Delia represent a stereotypical assortment of womanhood from the bitter, Bible thumping former mother-in-law and grandmother who took over raising Delia's daughters when she left; the rigid Nadine, and Delia's own daughters -- all three of them glorious in their adolescent pain and anger.

This dark book glows with shafts of hope from beginning to end and reflects an author who writes what she knows, and knows how to write.

Dawn Goldsmith

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