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Cavedweller Hardcover – March 1, 1998

72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

"Death changes everything." So begins Dorothy Allison's sprawling, ambitious, and deeply satisfying second novel, Cavedweller. For Delia Byrd, Randall Pritchard's death in a motorcycle accident launches a journey of several thousand miles and almost two decades, a rebirth of sorts that's also a return to her roots. Years before, the handsome but untrustworthy rock star Randall helped Delia flee an abusive husband; Delia escapes physical danger but leaves her two small children behind. In California, her abandoned daughters haunt her dreams and preoccupy her waking hours, even as she sings in Randall's band and gives birth to another daughter, Cissy. But when Randall is killed in a motorcycle accident, Delia packs rebellious Cissy into a broken-down Datsun, bound for Cayro, Georgia, and the one thing that suddenly matters more than anything else: her abandoned children and the chance to be a mother to them once again.

Cayro's poverty is emotional as well as material; the town is a hard place, full of hard people. To them, Delia will always be "that bitch" who abandoned her babies, "that hippie" living a life of sin. Nonetheless, Delia forges a cruel bargain with her former husband: in exchange for Delia's agreeing to care for him as he dies, he gives her a chance to reclaim her daughters. Like Bastard out of Carolina, Allison's acclaimed debut novel, Cavedweller is a chronicle of rage, strength, and survival. Here, however, Allison is equally concerned with the redemptive power of love and forgiveness, and a novel that began with death ends on an unexpectedly sanguine note: "'Yes, it's time for some new songs.'" There are no victims in Dorothy Allison's work; Delia triumphs through sheer force of will, bringing her family together despite the contempt of almost everyone around her.

The novel has its flaws--including occasionally flat-footed prose--but it is in the end compulsively readable, and it's populated by some of the most memorable characters in recent fiction: tough, prickly, flawed, and deeply human, Delia and Cissy are literary creations of the first rank. In describing the complicated emotions that bind and divide them, Allison demonstrates a profoundly unsentimental understanding of the way the human heart works. Cavedweller is the work of a mature artist, her best fiction to date.

From Publishers Weekly

Four women endure pain, experience epiphanies and find imperfect but bearable methods to continue their lives in Allison's moving second novel, after the celebrated Bastard Out of Carolina. After Delia Byrd buries Randall Pritchard?father of her 10-year old daughter, Cissy, and guitarist of the rock band Mud Dogs, for which she was the soulful singer?she leaves L.A. and hits the road to backwoods Cayro, Ga., the town she left a decade ago, fleeing her violent husband, Clint Windsor, and abandoning her two baby daughters. In Cayro, she suffers the scorn of most of the community, who condemn her as a sinner and an unnatural mother. Eventually, she strikes a bargain with Clint, offering to tend him on his deathbed if he will allow her to reclaim her daughters Amanda, 15, and Dede, 12, from their stern, Bible-quoting grandmother. The narrative covers the next few years, during which Delia fights poverty, exhaustion, her household's emotional turbulence and the urge to drink. Sanctimonious Amanda pursues moral rectitude with evangelical fervor; sexpot Dede dreams of driving a big truck down the highway; and outwardly tough but vulnerable Cissy discovers peace of mind in spelunking and begins to suspect her sexual orientation. Allison widens her tale to include other members of the community, rendering some hard-faced, cold-blooded rednecks with unsparing honesty. She weaves into the story such themes as female bonding, the power of hate and the puzzle of love, the hard path to forgiveness and acceptance. There are some problems: the teenage girls often speak unconvincingly sophisticated dialogue, and the narrative tends to ramble. Nevertheless, the novel has a restless energy and consistently interesting characters that will keep readers caring about the flawed but valiant women who manage to surmount their private griefs through stubborn determination. 100,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB featured alternates; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 434 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (March 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525941673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525941675
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,828,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dorothy Allison is the bestselling author of several novels including Bastard Out of Carolina, Cavedweller, and Two Or Three Things I Know For Sure. The recipient of numerous awards, she has been the subject of many profiles and a short documentary film of her life, Two or Three Things but Nothing For Sure.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on April 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
Years and years ago, I devoured Bastard out of Carolina. Then I got ahold of Cavedweller - and it might as well have dwelt in a cave itself for all the notice I took of it. Why did it take me so long to pick it up and read it?
Answer: the cover photo was ambiguous and didn't draw me in, and the title was...odd.
What a mistake! I picked it up while cleaning out bookshelves a few days ago, flipped to the first page, and barely put it down till I'd finished it. It begins with death, and death (or the threat of death - many near misses) persists throughout. But somehow the women of this book triumph above poverty, narrow-minded neighbors, small town pettiness, Holy Roller invective, no-good men (though, to Allison's credit, there ARE a few good men), and lack of opportunity.
I admire the author's ability to move seamlessly forward in time without her readers demanding to know absolutely everything that happened in the intervening years. Characters grow and learn and change, and Allison's writing plops us down at the critical moments so we can observe first-hand the events that caused the transitions.
Wonderful book, wonderful characters, wonderful writing.
Highest recommendation, right behind Bastard out of Carolina.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jill Dyche on May 26, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I, too, must have missed something here. While the first several chapters definitely had me hooked, I found the rest of the book slow going. Most of the characters, but especially Delia, were only partially-drawn, and each seemed to be keeping a BIG SECRET that never emerged. There is a lukewarm family drama described in retrospect toward the end of the book that could be considered expository, but it seemed like an author's afterthought, and didn't work at all.
The whole cave thing was too little, too late, and the fact that it dictated the book's title surprised me. I was most frustrated with how Allison takes us deep into a character, and then pulls back, as if teasing us with detail that is ultimately inconsequential. The most fascinating characters, Rosemary and Amanda, are dangling like rag dolls at the end of the story.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Overall, I enjoyed the writing but the story seemed to meander and I was unclear who the main characters were. The story begins focusing on Delia then Cissy and then introduces a host of other interesting characters without ever giving you a chance to know any of them. Allison presents realistic characters but never gives a purpose for their inclusion in the book. And once she brings in these great characters, she lets them go and you never know what happens to them. What happened to Tacey, her mother, and most of all MT and Stephanie, Delia's long lost friends? She also jumped around a lot - at one point, she finally gets her abandoned children back and they refuse to speak with her. Pages later its years later and they are a family although still dysfunctional. I was left wondering how they got past the initial trials. I was also disappointed to see blatant errors in the book when Cissy is called Cindy and Nadine is called Nolan. A good editor should have caught these errors as well as insisted that the story was tied up before rushing to publish it. I am not sure if I want to read her next book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By _ on March 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Dorothy Allison's eloquent vision exposes a sentimentality of everyday life that few dare to comprehend and ever write about.Immediately drawing the reader's attention,Dorothy Allison shows how she can control a world entangled in sensual dreams and direct realities.Within this world,Allison creates believable characters that explore life with wild abandonment.Furthermore,Allison is successful in her combination of and transition between the unsympathetic glitter of the music industry and the gospel revelations of the southern spirit.Her multifaceted and emotionally charged confessional leaves an undeniable impression upon those who can willingly accept their share of vulnerability.
Cavedweller narrates the lives of four unique women,linked together by the world in which they live.The omnious opening abruptly places the reader into Allison's intensive hands. From there,she begins to lead the reader on a vivid journey through misery and charm.The contextual settings within Allison's passages are also very indicative of Allison's knack for creating subtle imagery that holds profound meaning.
At some point, the reader must ask what is the significance of the novel's title-- Cavedweller.Allison delays the relevance of the novel's title,almost deliberately,which only entices the reader to explore more pages.But when the caves do appear,Allison does not hold back on her visionary excellence.She comes at the reader with full force,exposing a world of deep solace and contemplation.It is in these parts of the novel where Allison truly shines with her display of poetic prose and rhythmic sensuality.
Even after the novel is gracefully completed,Dorothy Allison's touching lyricism continues to remain with the reader's consciousness;adding more complexity,relevancy,and mystery to the life that everyone compulsively intends to find.*****
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "singer27" on March 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
As one reviewer wrote, "let's get the negative stuff out of the way." About 3/4 of the way through the book, I wondered what happened to Delia, the supposed main character of the book. It occurred to me that the back book description needs to be changed. This story is equally about Delia and the individual stories of her three daughters, especially Cissy. Delia falls far into the background for most of the second half of the book. Another reviewer hated what I loved most about the book; Cissy's love for caving and the descriptions that went along with it. Beyond being a metaphor for the story, it was wonderful, original and realistic part of Cissy. What comes through clearly in the book is how much people can misunderstand each other and what people do with the void that that creates. This book meanders at times, but the last 40 pages are intense, well-written and aching. It's worth it to stick with this book
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