on February 3, 1999
Among the hundreds or thousands of books that I have read, there remain only two that I can say this about. (The other is _The Color Purple_.) _Two or Three Things..._ is powerfully written. It is beautiful in the same way that it is to discover that someone's cancer has gone into remission. It is dark, it is almost tragic, and yet it is triumphant; I know of few authors who can pull this off, and none so well as Dorothy Allison.
For anyone who has faced or is facing serious adversity in their lives, be it from poverty, sexaul abuse, or anything else, especially for anyone who has gotten through it but not overcome it (you know what your 'it' is): this book will change your life, as well. I have learned a great deal from Dorothy Allison, and I am much the better for it.
Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that when I chose life, it was mostly because of this book.
on May 2, 2002
For those of you who have read Dorothy Allison's amazing, moving novel BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA, this book is the bridge between the fiction of that work and the reality of Dorothy's life -- and even without BASTARD as a reference, this is an immensely powerful work.
TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW FOR SURE was originally intended as a one-woman stage presentation -- I can only imagine, after reading this slim volume, how powerful that must have been. Allison's writing talents are incredible -- she conveys the frustration, and especially the pain, of growing up sexually abused in the American South, the ignorance and poverty, the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, in a very real way. It would be difficult to read this book and NOT get angry at what she endured, at the way women in general were treated. The inspiring thing is that she determined to rise above it in the only way she knew how -- by literally re-inventing her own life. Comparing the process of doing this to the telling of a story, she makes it understandable even to those who are not familiar with the courage required by abuse victims to make the transition to being survivors.
Incest and abuse tear families apart and can destroy lives. There's a very revealing story that she tells about looking through old photographs, first with her mom, then with other female family members. There's a palpable reluctance on their part to name everyone they see in the photos -- it's as if the people there don't exist outside the pictures, their lives being so damaged that they have literally disappeared. The subconscious protects us -- we remember what we can handle, when we can handle it.
On p.3, Dorothy makes a statement about 'retelling' her life as a story, re-inventing it in order to hold the pain and cast it off. She says: 'Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is what it means to have no loved version of your life but the one you made.' The abuse victim can't depend on anyone else to reshape and rebuild what has been broken -- those on the outside can help and support, but only the object of the abuse has the power to decide to choose life as a survivor instead of a victim.
Sexual abuse and incest are extremely uncomfortable topics -- but they occur with greater frequency in our society than most people can or will admit -- and ignoring these painful issues will NOT make them go away. Only by speaking out can courageous survivors like Dorothy Allison give hope and encouragement to those who have yet to take that first important step on the road to healing.
This is an honest and well-written book -- and a moving and important one.
on November 13, 1996
The writing in Dorothy Allison's TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW FOR SURE has such a razor edge you'll want to protect your fingers as you hold the book. With unwavering honesty -- and with a somtimes suprising attitude toward the terrible events that have shaped her life -- Allison deftly avoids the two traps so common to pieces of this kind. There is no whining in this book, and there's no smug tone of "but just look at me now" either. Allison comes from a long line of women who have lived difficult, often unhappy lives, but she never condescends to apologize for any of these women. Rather, she understands -- and brings to life for the reader -- the deeply-buried strength and courage that so often these days is interpreted as weakness or lack of imagination. Allison's story is fascinating, peopled by characters who ring as true as our own families (sometimes to devasatatingly personal effect). But it is Allison's harshly poetic prose, even above the subject matter, that makes this book soar. The writing is simple, never showy, and so focused that it seems at times a magnifying glass held at just the proper angle to catch the rays of a white-hot desert sun. The words burn into us, cleansing and scarring at the same time, and when we turn the final page we know that we've just experienced something increasingly rare these days: the truth
on January 6, 2004
A self-proclaimed and widely-admired story teller, Dorothy Allison goes from novels into straight memoir with Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. But here's the thing: it's lyrical, poetic, gorgeous writing. Shouldn't be a surprise, I guess, as she IS a poet (something I blush to admit I didn't actually know), but surprised I was.
Sprinkled throughout the `story' are little 3-4 line snippets in italics, each one beginning with the words her aunt used to say: Two or three things I know for sure... And then she completes the sentence in different ways, based on what she's focusing on. Here's one: "No one is as hard as my uncles had to pretend to be." This very short little book (less than 100 pages) is so beautifully written, dense with pain and the cruelty of her South Carolina childhood, as well as that of not just her family, but her townsfolk, her whole "white trash" social class. Topics range from lust, rape, rage, loss, poverty, beatings, agandonment, and that's just for starters. Dorothy Allison has an ability to write about exceedingly painful subjects with a luminousness that transforms the cruelty of life. The cadence, the rhythm, the music of the words and the writing carries the reader along. Apparently this was written as a performance piece, and it shows. Old family photos are included, and I found myself flipping constantly to the ID list to get a bead on who she was talking about.
And yet, it's a beautiful book. Don't miss it.
on January 7, 2002
I read this in October 2001 and looved it. One of my favourite non-fiction reads. A terse and disturbing account of the author's life in the South where she is abused by her step father and eventually goes on to derive her strength from herself and knowing who she really is and what she stands for.
What I liked about this autobiography - if you can call it that is the plain candidcy that shines through the book. Ms Allison clearly states that her being a lesbian has nothing to do with the abuse she faced and its true. It's ridiculous how one tends to believe that one's sexuality preference is a result of something and not out of choice.
While reading this so-called non-fictional novella, I came to realise what it was like for me when i came out of the closet. I related to the book on so many levels because being gay in a country like India is so difficult - the atrocious remarks, the unwelcoming feeling in the family and apart from all this Dorothy Allison's book always comforted me in a weird way and I loved that comfort food!
on September 13, 2012
From the Author's note at the end of the book..."'Two or Three Things I Know for Sure' was written for performance in the months of completing my novel 'Bastard Out of Carolina'."
The book is adapted from that material. I sure wish I had Allison's storytelling ability. She tells what it's like for the women of her family, a family from rural South Carolina, what it was like for her being part of that family. What it's like is your dreams get done under early on in life, any possibility of being more than your family get squashed out of you by denial or brute reality of being poor and female in the South. That this didn't happen to Allison, that she continued to rise up, is a boon to the rest of us, and does what Marianne Williamson says so wonderfully, "by shining, she gives the rest of us permission to shine too." By daring to tell her story, she allows the rest of us to tell ours too. Difficult stories are the ones that NEED to be told.
Thank all the gods above and below for Dorothy Allison.
on April 16, 2015
This was written for performance but it is a compelling read that carries at its heart all the truth women hide within themselves. Women can be weak and they can be incredibly strong. This collection acknowledges that fact.
on February 27, 2003
I believe Ernest Hemmingway said "All you have to do
to be a writer is write one honest sentence." Well by
that definition, and although this slim book with its
refrains of the title in different contexts reads
almost like a performance piece between two covers--it
is in fact reconstructed from texts used in
performances used to publicize 1993's Bastard Out of
North Carolina--Dorothy Allison is certainly a writer.
And yet curiously, and at times almost bewitchingly,
Allison plays with and cozies up to the notion of
story in its ability not just to tell the truth but to
conceal it--here, in the simplest possible language,
and using her own experiences as a child abuse victim
by her stepfather in the American South, she
psychoanalyzes the nature of story and story-telling
as a means of healing the ego and reinventing the
self. The book is integrated with arresting
black-and-white photos of the book's principles and
protagonists, the hard-working and depressed women and
the hard-drinking men acting tougher even than they
are and old before their time. She tells stories of a
happy-go-lucky ladies' man uncle so depressed after
being jilted that he feels that his "heart is going to
leap out of his chest"; of the balletic wife of her
young karate instructor, a woman whose confidence she
rewrote as prose; and of seducing an army woman, the
repressed overweight daughter of a gangster, taking
her by surprise in the shower. She even owns up to
fantasies of sexual pleasure in the act of violence,
refusing to deny the truth even as she realizes its
malleability, its inability to withstand the greater
caress of good storytelling. This is a book about
truth and lies, and the arts of transformation. Beyond
lies and self-deception the truth hurts...and
"fiction"--conscious now, in the hands of the
lover...of the damaged self--has the power
on July 9, 2012
I checked this book out from the library after seeing mention of it in Louise DeSalvo's Writing as a Way of Healing. I loved Bastard Out of Carolina so I thought this would be a good read as well. The book is extraordinary. The shape feels organic with shifts in time yet somehow it all comes together. This is probably due to Allison's incredibly strong voice. I've been feeling stuck on my own memoir which is also about sexual abuse. Something unlocked for me when I read this book and I found the right voice I needed to tell my own story. Needless to say, I ordered a copy of my own.
on February 21, 2008
"Let me tell you a story," is how the author of BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA begins her autobiographical journey, alerting the reading audience from the start that she is a storyteller first and foremost above all else: above her being a woman, a daughter, a sister, a lesbian, a survivor. Indeed, she creates and tells stories in order to better define those qualities she has, the labels she possesses, and with an effort towards cleansing her soul of ugliness in favor of beauty and hope.
Originally designed as a performance piece, that she staged in San Francisco at The Lab in August of 1991, Allison reworked the spoken narrative into this flowing, written memoir.
There are many inspiring, defiantly unsentimental portions of the book, which serve to display Allison's valiant attempts to heal herself while becoming an artist. Unfortunately, there are also Anne Lamott-type lapses into cliche and sap and faux-inspiring writing that fails to ring completely true. The pictures of Allison and the family she writes about that accompany the book are vivid and add an even greater genuineness to the text.
A scene that encapsulates the tone of the book, as well as describing Allison's life-long struggle and that of the girls and women she loves, appears near the end of the book, when Dorothy is visiting her sister and pre-adolescent niece. "I looked into my niece's sunburned frightened face. Like her mama, like her grandmama, like her aunts -- she had that hungry desperate look that trusts nothing and wants everything. She didn't think she was pretty. She didn't think she was worth anything at all." Heartbreaking, real and a truth that haunts the women in Allison's family from generation to generation until... when? That's a question that the author refuses to deal with, probably more out of fear for its answer than anything else.
On a side note, I saw Allison appear live at an event in Orange County in 2006. She was fiery, profane, fearless, and struck me as a serious truthseeker with a motivating message for aspiring writers and aspiring humanists. I was at first taken aback by her brashness, her unapologetic stance about people and politics and education. But as she continued on, she became less guarded, more sympathetic, and ultimately more loving than someone who's seen so much hatred and so much abuse should be expected to be. She was, truly, an inspiring figure up there on the stage.