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2 Two or Three Things I Know For Sure by Dorothy Allison (Flamingo pounds 4.99) is so short a memoir that it is closer to an essay than a book, but the impact of Allison's story ("I was born trash in a land where the people all believe themselves natural aristocrats") comes across all the more strongly for her spare, scattershot style. She chronicles her white- trash family with a ruthless truthfulness - "The poor are ... mostly ugly. Almost always ugly" - but also with a poignant affection that wins out over the tales of violence, sexual abuse, ignorance and deprivation. This fondness informs the maxim of the title, a tragic chorus running through her book: "Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that no one is as hard as my uncles had to pretend to be."

Interspersed through her short pages are family snapshots - fat grinning girls in frilly dresses, slack-breasted and exhausted women, wary-eyed young men, their hair slicked back, sitting in a honky-tonk - which underline her words all the more. Although there is an emphasis on the harshness of the women's lives ("The women in my family? We are the ones in all those photos taken at mining disasters, floods, fires ..."), she knows that the men, too, had their misery: "The tragedy of the men in my family was silence, a silence veiled by boasting and jokes. If you didn't look close you might miss the sharp glint of pain in their eyes ...".

As her story moves on, the snaps change to show the serious, long-haired girl Allison became as she moved to a feminist collective and recognised her lesbianism, then to a new and different family grouping with her own son. ("Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I would rather go naked than wear the coat the world made for me.") It's a fine triumph over a crushing legacy, and a fine account of that triumph.