River of Names

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“River of Names” is part of a collection of short stories in the book Trash published in 1988, written by Dorothy Allison. It is the basis for the later novel Bastard out of Carolina. In her powerful writing, Allison draws on her own harrowing childhood in 1950s Greenville, South Carolina: the stigma of growing up a bastard, the shame and pride she felt toward her family, and her association with her stepfather who beat and molested her. “In this story, “River of Names,” Allison writes about her life as a way to come to terms with her past, honoring the attempt to make contemporary literature out of her experience as a working class lesbian addicted to violence, language and hope.” Her emotionally intense tale is woven with poverty, incest and abuse is ultimately a tale of survival.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. -Herman Melville

In today’s society people are eager to categorize what they are unfamiliar with. They perceive people who are poor, and from the south as “white trash.” Their own socio-economic background of course influences this perception. Allison is from the back woods of South Carolina and presents these people in a way that challenges the expectations of the American public and at the same time does not romanticize their lives. The story is told by a narrator, who is nameless, and her experiences while growing up in this type of family and follows all the stereotypical images that come to mind: “broken teeth, torn overalls, and the dirt.” She does not gloss over the ugliness of this poverty. Her words are not simple, but hard edged truths. Dorothy Allison speaks through this narrator with unflinching honesty about a world where pain and love intersect.

“Stealing was a way to pass the time. Things we needed...
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