This is a bleak view of Texas in the 1930s offered by a young girl lost in a dust bowl of sin, confusion, and lust. Bleak may be a polite term as I am sure some readers would find Robert Joe Stout’s 1973 novel “Miss Sally” a trying read. Scenes of torture, rape, and blasphemy run throughout yet the young Sally begins innocently enough – her and her sister spy on an older sibling having sex. The conversations that ensue are enchanting and darling as the girls try to explain for themselves the ins and outs of adulthood. This fuels a dangerous and naïve plan to experiment with sex and local boys. After the domino effect of curiosity takes its toll, she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Raped by several local boys and teens, Sally is ferried out to the countryside days later not only to recover but to allow the gossip to dry up for a few years. Things go from bad to worse as Sally barely reaches womanhood, but not without a roller coaster of joy and sorrow alike.
There are some very poignant scenes that take place in various revival services. While many around this little girl vacillate between heathen attitudes that do not practise religion at all – which are the most benign – and those who are dangerously enraptured with Christianity in one form or another who come across as the most dangerous and detrimental. The path to her saviour blocked by thorns, and even though she pursues religion right to the end, it would appear to be the cause of so many of her misconceptions and troubles. For a little girl who thinks herself dumb and ugly, she has some deeply philosophical reasons for her actions that keep one interested to see what she will do or say next. An example is when she first assumes she must look like a sinner since everyone at church looks at her as if she has sinned. Since she hasn’t sinned it makes her sad, and certain something must be wrong with her when the entire congregation agrees that everyone has sinned. A very confusing concept for a simple girl barely thirteen years old.
Sally shows no shame in what happened to her, proving to be a very tough little girl taking the world at face value. With the exception being her erstwhile brainwashing at the hands of religious fanatics of the time, she otherwise has a very balanced and non-judgemental core to her. At one point she compares her rape to animal husbandry she helps with on a cousins farm and the insight offered is simplistic but refreshing. Her philosophy is simple throughout and hence, incredibly thought-provoking for a reader brave enough to take “Miss Sally” herself at face value.
There are several scenes of sex in the book, most are not consensual. Some are alluded to but many happen as we are on our journey with this young girl, so the reader is given an unflinching view of brutal treatment by Stout. As a very dark coming of age tale, there is no way around it, so fans of stories like “Go Ask Alice”, “The Girl Next Door,” or the film “The Seasoning House” will understand the merits of being able to see into how much like beasts – or worse – humans can behave. While this is a fictional story it serves as a reminder that worse things happen in life, and anyone we stand beside could endure what little Sally winds up witnessing.
This is a sure four-and-a-half stars, as I was left with one small question that needed addressing. Aside from the cover art being far too plain, through all of this learning and witnessing sex, rape, torture and confusing religion, fighting families and all – there is no mention of a woman or Sally herself menstruating. That was one point I was waiting to see addressed. Would it fill her with more questions, drive her deeper into her warped sense of righteousness, or had the trauma her body went through so young have damaged her to a point that it was impossible? That seemed to be missed given her age by the end of the novel. Being written in the mid-70s originally – this is a re-release by Robert Joe Stout and we are lucky for it – perhaps that sort of womanly medical truth was too racy a topic among all of the brutality surrounding this young girl.
I have taken a position reviewing books from independent authors. While not all are horror, there is a thread of darkness through them regardless of genre. As with honest paid reviews, there will be personal reaction as well as comparative and critical analysis. If you are an author that would like me to review your work, contact me for rates and a summary of your novel, short story, or collection.