Trash, Dorothy Allison

Dorothy Allison’s book of short stories, which are fictional accounts of her own life, focus either on growing up in poverty in South Carolina or on her sex life as a lesbian.

Allison’s detailed descriptions of lesbian sex are very honest and gritty, just like the rest of her writing. Her stories about being an adult are littered with humble and beautiful insights into her own psyche. At one point, a friend puts her on the spot, asking whether she has fantasies.

I do not have fantasies. Fantasy opens me up; I become fantasy…. I make in my mind the muscle that endures, tame rage and hunger to spirit and blood. I become the rock. I become the knife. I am myself the mystery. The me that will be waits for me. If I cannot dream myself new, how will I find my true self? (134)

Personal revelations like these characterize Allison’s stories of adulthood, which make them read almost like a collection of case studies. In contrast, the stories based on her childhood transform Allison into a true storyteller. Analysis is replaced with the page-turning shock value of a childhood plagued with poverty and abuse. These stories are so powerful precisely because Allison successfully conveys how unexceptional her childhood was. That she was able to write her story is certainly extraordinary, but her prose indicates that her story itself is unremarkable. This in itself is incredible because the events and experiences she recounts are often horrifying, disturbing, and inconceivable. Allison tells her horrific story while simultaneously communicating to the reader just how common such a childhood was. The beginning of the prologue reads:

There was a day in my life when I decided to live. After my childhood, after all that long terrible struggle to simply survive, to escape my stepfather, uncles, speeding Pontiacs, broken glass and rotten floorboards, or that inevitable death by misadventure that claimed so many of my cousins; after watching so many die around me, I had not imagined that I would ever need to make such a choice. I had imagined the hunger for life in me was insatiable, endless, unshakable. (7)

I’m glad I read this book if only to discover Dorothy Allison, who continues to be active in the feminist and lesbian community in addition to being a captivating writer and teacher of writing. She is an outspoken critic on class struggle and lesbianism, founding the Lesbian Sex Mafia in 1981, an information and support group in NYC for lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, and transsexual women. In a Miami Herald article just last week, she is quoted as saying, “I plan to vote for President Obama again unless Elizabeth Warren runs. Then all bets are off.”

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About Madeleine Gyory

Madeleine is a social media butterfly who tweets (and does some other things) for the Women's Media Center, a media advocacy non-profit based in NY. She loves reading, particularly stories by and about women. She graduated from Barnard College, and has spent time teaching English in Ecuador. Her favorite writers are Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Jonathan Safran Foer.
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