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Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison


by Dorothy Allison

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Delia Byrd is a native of Cayro, Georgia and a recovering alcoholic who lives in Los Angeles with her surly ten-year-old daughter, Cissy. The former lead singer of the obscure blues-rock band Mud Dog, Delia is supported primarily by Randall Pritchard, Cissy's father and a member of Mud Dog. The novel opens with Randall being killed in a motorcycle accident. Grief-stricken, nearly penniless, and desperate to reconcile with the daughters she left behind in Georgia, Delia packs up her daughter and drives nearly non-stop cross-country.
When she arrives in Cayro, she is confronted by townspeople who think she is a "hussy" for having left her two daughters despite being aware of the fact that Delia's husband was often abusive toward her. After a disappointing reunion with the grandfather who raised her, Delia enrolls Cissy at the local school, gets a job as a cleaning woman and sinks into a deep depression.
After emerging from the depression, Delia embarks on a quest to regain custody of her now-pubescent daughters, Amanda and Dede, from their hateful and puritanical paternal grandmother. She enlists the aid of the preacher at her mother-in-law's church. Despite the fact that the minister is able to convince the grandmother to consent to visits, Grandma Windsor does not keep her side of the bargain. Desperate, Delia approaches the girls' father, Clint, and makes a deal with him. Clint, who is gravely ill with cancer, agrees to transfer legal custody of the girls to Delia if she moves into his house and cares for him as he is unwilling to spend his last days in a hospital. After thoroughly cleaning the house, Delia moves all three girls in.
Things between Delia and her daughters are tense at first. Fourteen-year-old Amanda is as rigid and religion obsessed as her grandmother, frequently telling Cissy that she is going to hell. Dede is a sexually precocious twelve-year-old who likes to smoke cigarettes. They initially ignore their younger sister and her mother. The two older girls also hate their father, remembering the times that he assaulted his parents.
Cissy, unable to get along with any of her female relatives, takes pity on the bedridden Clint. She begins reading to him. Eventually, Clint begins to tell her about the early days of his marriage to Delia, expressing remorse about the violence he subjected her to.
After Clint dies, Cissy and Dede form a tight bond. However, Amanda remains intractable, frequently arguing with her mother and sisters. Amanda goes on to marry an aspiring preacher and gives birth to two sons in short order. After undergoing a procedure to remove gallstones, Amanda suffers a minor nervous collapse and begins rethinking her previous religiosity.
Cissy, who has had problems fitting in at school, develops an abiding friendship with Nolan, a classmate who shares her passion for science fiction novels. Nolan eventually introduces Cissy to spelunking and falls madly in love with Dede, who scorns his advances.
Dede, who has several brushes with the law and briefly battles drug addiction, eventually gets a job managing the convenience store. After Nolan rescues Dede from a gun-toting ex-boyfriend, the two embark on a passionate love affair.
Cissy begins making plans to return to Los Angeles to study at UCLA. This leaves the forty-something Delia at loose ends as the two older girls have already left home. She has broken up with Cayro's deputy sheriff and has no romantic prospects. Delia then resolves to begin a new chapter of her life by becoming more involved with her young grandsons. ( )
  bostonwendym | Jul 12, 2016 |
There was a little too much religion in this book for my taste. That would have been entirely fine but it's not what I was looking for. There was also too much random information about stuff the just didn't matter. That being said it was just an ok read. ( )
  Tabatha014 | Mar 31, 2016 |
I picked this up after having read Allison's most famous work, Bastard out of Carolina, which was one of the most harrowing emotional reading experiences I have ever had. This book is not nearly so rough to read, but it is still a cutting, insightful and frank exploration of the small-town lives of people often dismissed as "white trash." Not my usual favorite topic, but Allison is an absorbing and talented writer, really able to draw the reader in.
I am STILL impatiently waiting for Allison's promised sci-fi book - an 'excerpt' was published in 1996 which was a truly great story... I don't know if she never finished it, or didn't find a publisher (seems unlikely!)
No fantastic elements in this book, although the main character is a science-fiction fan, and there's enough titles/authors mentioned in the text to send a lot of people in the right direction! (It's not a big part of the story, though.) ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
this is a powerful book about coming through violence and/or tragedy and what you do with your life afterwards. who you are and how you handle everything. the writing is excellent and the characters are well drawn. most of the characters are women, and that's definitely part of the story, too, how these women learn to relate to themselves, each other, society.

i'm not sure why it took me so long to read this because it really is a very good book, with good character arcs throughout, although toward the end it got decidedly harder to put down. ( )
  elisa.saphier | Apr 26, 2015 |
Delia Byrd Windsor escaped an abusive marriage by running off to California with a rock band, leaving her two young daughters back in Cayro, Georgia. The story begins ten years later, when her almost famous, not quite rich rock star partner is killed in a car crash. Delia is left with the product of their liaison, ten year old Cissy. Delia decides to return to Cayro, dragging along a kicking and screaming Cissy, to reunite with the children she left behind.

Ex-husband Clint agrees to return her daughters provided she will care for him as he is dying of cancer. Delia acquiesces. But her daughters, all three, are unenthused. The eldest, Amanda, prefers to act the martyr, holding a grudge against the mother who abandoned her. Second daughter, DeDe, is a wild child who has learned to push the envelope at every opportunity. Cissy, still indignant at having been thrust into a lifestyle she never wanted, pouts overtly. In addition, many of Cayro’s citizens (including her ex-mother-in-law) treat Delia like a pariah who doesn’t deserve a chance at redemption. Delia perseveres, building a small business; fixing up a house; reconciling with her daughters. By the end of the book the family seems to have achieved a tenuous normalcy.

Good writing, a cohesive story, and richly drawn characters elevate this book beyond a depressing soap opera. While the characters are not extraordinarily flawed, when their flaws are combined with incredibly poor life choices, the results are destructive to all. The consequences of Clint’s sadism, Delia’s flight, Delia’s substance abuse, Grandmother Windsor’s cold-heartedness, the girls’ attitudes – and so forth – have a dramatic impact on everybody else. Even the minor characters are relevant to the plot.

I enjoyed Cavedweller and recommend it to readers who like character driven books. ( )
  refice | Dec 7, 2012 |
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For Wolf and Alix, my son and my beloved.
They have taught me all I know about healing the heart.
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Death changes everything.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452279690, Paperback)

"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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:53 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A Georgia woman who abandoned her family to become a singer in California, returns 10 years later. It happens after Delia Byrd's new man dies in an accident, leaving her with a child. The novel describes the family's adjustment, including that of her teen daughters. By the author of Bastard Out of Carolina.… (more)

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