Monday, March 23, 2015

Trash by Dorothy Allison

In 2009, I attended a night called Writers with Drinks in San Francisco. It's an event with a mix of writers that basically get in front of this crowd in a bar and read some of their work for ten or fifteen minutes. The only reason it caught my eye in the first place is because Adam Savage was presenting, and since my husband and I both love Mythbusters, it seemed like a fun date night. And it was. But not just because of Adam.

One of the authors there that night was Dorothy Allison. I'd never heard of her before then, though I'd heard of her biggest book, Bastard Out of Carolina. Adam was predictably funny, but she was the one I walked away most intrigued by. She was funny and smart, and from the second her Southern accent rang out through the room, I wanted to know more about her. I went looking for some of her work not long after and picked up a collection of short stories called Trash. Then it promptly got buried on my TBR pile (which really is that scary).

Until I was packing for EPICon. I took it with me to read.

Trash is a collection of short stories that all read like memoir. Allison has been blunt about her poor Southern upbringing, the abuses she suffered, and it's all reflected in these tidbits. The stories aren't overtly long, but each one reads like a new chapter in this young woman's life as she grows up surrounded by poverty, violence, ignorance, and shame, with momentary glimpses into true beauty, and then moves out into the world. They aren't easy reads. She doesn't hold back on anything. But her language is provocative, and her fearlessness in exposing everything, the good and the bad, is breathtaking.

There are a lot of stories about various stages of lesbian relationships. Allison came out in the 60s and was a part of the feminist movement in the 70s, so be prepared for those influences to permeate each of the stories. Sometimes, it's hard to keep each one separate, because the natural response is to string them together and create a single narrative (since the women in each are so strikingly familiar), but I'm not sure that's a detriment in the long run.

If you haven't read any of her work, I highly recommend seeking her out. She's a Lambda Literary Award winner and well worth it.