One of the Best Books of the Year: The Guardian, Glamour, Goop
An Entertainment Weekly Must-Read
A stunning, lyrical novel set in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians about a young girl and the family truths that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
“A girl comes of age against the knife.”
So begins the story of Betty Carpenter. Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a white mother and a Cherokee father, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit in the rural town of Breathed, Ohio, is one of poverty and violence—both from outside the family and, devastatingly, from within. But despite the hardships she faces, Betty is resilient. Her curiosity about the natural world, her fierce love for her sisters, and her father’s brilliant stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination, and in the face of all to which she bears witness, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write.
Inspired by generations of her family, Tiffany McDaniel sets out to free the past by delivering this heartbreaking yet magical story—a remarkable novel that establishes her as one of the most important voices in American fiction.
McDaniel bases her raw if overwrought bildungsroman (after The Summer That Melted Everything) on the life of her mother. Born in 1954, narrator Betty is one of eight siblings whose cherished father, Landon Carpenter, a Cherokee, tells wondrous tales, and whose mother, Alka Lark, shares cruel truths ("God hates us," she says, referring to women). Betty recounts poverty, puberty, and the tragic loss of one sibling after the other. Betty looks like Landon and is abused at school by the prejudiced children and teachers of Breathed, Ohio. The episodic narrative revolves around Betty's struggles over whether to divulge a family secret involving incest and rape at the story's rotten core. Along the way, Landon, a finely rendered character, dispenses most of the wisdom ("Some people are as beautiful and soft as peonies, others as hard as a mountain"), but McDaniel gives Betty exceedingly precocious insights (at nine: "William Shakespeare wrote my father a Romeo heart and a Hamlet mind at the same time Henry David Thoreau composed him to have sympathy toward nature and a longing for paradise to be regained"). Still, she brilliantly describes Betty's self-image based on her father's stories of their ancestors. McDaniel is an ambitious and sincere writer, and occasionally her work transcends.
A flow of words that will have you feeling happy, sad, angry, satisfied, love and content. Page by page you become a voyeur of this family. Loved every word but mostly the poetry of the writing was like riding down a lazy river