Could it be that Dorothy Allison, author of 1992's mercilessly graphic Bastard out of Carolina, is softening up? In Cavedweller, her latest novel, Allison actually has us sympathizing (a little) with the kind of loathsome characters she has made a career of reviling. Take, for example, that treacherous wife beater Clint Windsor. As we watch him die a slow death from cancer—punctuated by moments of remorse and reflection—Allison begins to suggest that our moral absolutes do not always apply.
Clint's beatings were the reason the book's heroine, Delia Byrd, long ago hopped on the bus of a touring rock star and never looked back, leaving behind her Cayro, Ga., hometown and two young daughters. Now, 10 years later, the gutsy Delia has returned to reconcile her past. But Cayro is a town that neither forgives nor forgets, and Delia is instantly recognized, not as the rock star she has become in her own right but as the scorned woman who ran out on her family. Nonetheless, she tries to reach out to her troubled teenage daughters, Dede and Amanda. For the characters in this powerful though uneven novel, hope is to be found in the bleakest places, and redemption begins with owning up to their choices in life. (Dutton, $24.95)