Adventures in Reading

Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison

“Death changes everything.”

Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller completely blew my mind. Attempting to continue my challenge of reading books I already own, I asked my partner to pick out a book for me. With completely different literary tastes and his partiality for non-fiction and poetry, I knew he would approach the selection with a different criterion than I would. I devoured Cavedweller in great heaping bites and with my eyes glittery and exhausted by the time I finished the novel.

Delia is an ex-rock-n-roller that escaped a small southern town and an abusive relationship. When her lover and lead singer of Mud Dog Randall dies, Delia has the urge to return to her childhood home with her youngest daughter Cissy. Part of Delia’s attraction to return home is her craving and the haunting of the two “babies” she left behind to escape her marriage. The novel stretches over years as Delia struggles to reacquaint her family.

Some of the themes coursing through Cavedweller are entirely predictable if not clichéd. The maternal and female struggles, the idea of the earth as mother, Cissy’s “rebirth” as she leaves the cave are a few examples. However, Allison deals with them with extraordinary grace and the greatest of poise – despite the regularity of these themes Allison gives them freshness.

Allison does write in dialect at times and overall the book requires some very close reading. Each word in the book seems of great importance and I must admit it’s the first novel I have read in quite some time where I did not scan at all. I did, however, have to reread the first chapter before I became accustomed to Allison’s style.

After finishing Cavedweller I mooched Bastard out of Carolina – perhaps the best known of Allison’s book from Bookmooch. She is definitely an author I want to spend more time with.

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