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Literary Classic Review     


By Dorothy Allison
Plume, 2002 [reprint]
Paper, $13.00 (224 pages)
ISBN:  0452283515



In 1988 Dorothy Allison’s first collection of short stories, Trash, was published by Firebrand Books.  Allison is also the author of Bastard Out of Carolina, Cavedweller, and her memoir, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure.  In “Stubborn Girls and Mean Stories,” Allison’s introduction to last year’s re-release of Trash by Plume, this 1992 National Book nominee writes about how she came to writing:  “There were specific feelings I wanted the stories to create, realizations I wanted people to experience.  Sometimes it was grief I wanted to provoke, sometimes anger, almost always a spur to action, to change.”  Her fiction delivers on many of those counts.         

Allison strives to effect change and her introduction and preface lean closely towards tutoring the reader about her own life and struggles, Allison’s fiction appears organic.  Each story emanates fresh from the lively figures that populate the pages of Trash.  Allison’s stories enrich a reader’s understanding of different levels of her experiences of growing up in the South—poor, abused, and a lesbian.  But her tales are accessible to all readers, as she seems to boil down the essence of friends, relatives, lovers, and Southern food.  Specifically in the story, “A Lesbian Appetite,” Allison makes biscuits, pork fat, greens, Moon Pies, RC colas and reading Carson McCullers seem a rite of passage to each and every Southerner.         

Allison releases a kaleidoscope of themes in the fifteen stories of Trash.  But one constant theme is family.  In “River of Names,” the narrator depicts the tentacles of the generations: “We were so many we were without number and, like tadpoles, if there was one less from time to time, who counted?”  A mother-daughter relationship takes the limelight in “I’m Working on My Charm.” 

New to this edition is the story “Compassion,” which involves three sisters juggling family disharmony as their mother’s illness worsens.  The narrator attempts normalcy with her mama, even accompanying the older woman shopping or to a jai alai fronton.  “I turned to watch Mama.  Her eyes were on the boys.  Her face was bright with pleasure.  What did I know?  Where else could she spend twenty dollars and look that happy?”  The dialogue is sharp and the narrator’s observances even sharper as characters discuss abuse or (over an underwear sales bin) God or life after death.  And at the end of “Compassion,” the final story in this collection, one realizes that Allison has succeeded in provoking a myriad of emotions page after page.


Elizabeth King Humphrey
Southern Scribe Reviews

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