Betty (2020) Tiffany McDaniel.
Posted by celticman on Mon, 12 Dec 2022
Betty by Tiffany McDaneil is my novel of the year. Yeh, I know it was published in 2020 and this is 2022, nearly 2023, but I’ve always been a bit behind.
I’ll try and explain why I think it’s pretty much perfect. I had to check Betty wasn’t real. This wasn’t autobiography.
Listen to the first line. It’s an encapsulation of the whole book.
‘A girl comes of age against the knife.’
A coming-of-age story, but we all know they are ten a penny. Who are we? What are we?
‘Where I came from was a family of eight children. More than one of us would die in the prizewinning years of youth.’
Mixed-race children. Alma Larks marriage to Landon Carpenter in the hungry thirties wasn’t a love match. She was white, but not as the driven snow. He had Cherokee in his blood. To purchase land in the United States, a country taken by force in acts of genocide, Landon had to call himself Dutch. A convenient fiction. Dutch American, not Cherokee American. Cherokee American couldn’t legally marry the Alma Larks of the world, during the lunch break from his job in a canning factory, pregnant or not.
Leland, born in 1939, is so white he could pass for American. He also has inherited the narcissistic, psychopathic tendencies of most of his classmates in Ohio. No surprise that he fancies himself as a preacher of the word of God.
The beating glass heart of the book is Landon. His poetic language, love of the land and all its creatures seen and unseen is Godly, but you wouldn’t find it in any church. His family is his life. Fraya follows Leland, one baby marking the beginning of the second world war, the other the end. Yarrow and Waconda, didn’t make it to baby steps. Flossie, then the narrator, Betty, and then later Tristan and Lint. We are in post-war American boom time of the promised land. The richest and most powerful nation in history.
In rural, Ohio, what matters is what always mattered, keeping those without pasty skin in their place. Landon calls Betty, ‘my little Indian, my little Cherokee’. That would be something she’d rather not be. She’s like to pass as white, like her brothers and sisters. Even at school, her sister Flossie tells her not to get too close, in case she too gets tarred. Flossie is sure she’ll be a film star when she grows up. They have a stage built in front of their house. Betty writes for the future, but also to capture the past. Like father, like daughter, they are fellow outcasts in a deeply divided and racist America.
Their story is the story of Job. Betty sets the tone. She captures what it means to be hated, but also to know great love and compassion. There is wisdom and beauty in that knowledge. Read on.
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Sounds like a must-read, CM!
Sounds like a must-read, CM! "Pretty much perfect" is some recommendation..
yeh, marinda, poetical,
yeh, marinda, poetical, magical and with a gritty story that rings true.