Redolent of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, BETTY is the kind of compelling storytelling that instills iris burning images, ear-worm prose, indelible characters and an innate sense of time and place.

Born sixth into a family of eight children, Betty is the fruit of a family tree that has grown with rotten roots, broken branches and fungus on the leaves, yet yields shade and cover and the hope of regeneration.

Betty is a storyteller, a gift instilled in her by her father’s oral repertoire of Cherokee myth, legend, lore and imagination, and given fervour by ardent reading. Voraciously devouring the shelves of her local library, she believed that the Great Creator had told the talented scribes to write her a father.

Dad is certainly a fabulous character, a teller of tall tales, parables a plenty, a gardener, herbalist and moonshiner.

“As for my father’s imagination, I believe that God had stepped on Dad’s mind. It was Steinbeck’s fault, he having dropped my father’s mind in the first place, which gave God the opportunity to step on it, leaving behind a small dent and the print of His foot.”

As for Betty’s mum, “My mother was a woman so lovely, mirrors grieved in absence of her.” But her psyche is damaged by incessant early childhood incest, a blight no amount of tender loving care by her husband can fully eradicate.

On one of her siblings, “My sister was just another girl doomed by politics and ancestral texts that say a girl’s destiny is to be wholesome, obedient and quietly attractive, but invisible when need be. Nailed to the cross of her own gender, a girl finds herself between the mother and the prehistoric rib, where there’s little space to be anything other than a daughter who lives alongside sons but is not equal to them. These boys who can howl like tomcats in heat, pawing their way through a feast of flesh, never to be called a slut or a whore like my sister was.”

BETTY is the story of a clan growing up in Breathed, Ohio, a story of anguish but so, too, of love. Betty’s dialogue becomes an insanity that then evolves into a metamorphosis of soul. Risen against all odds, if only to oppose and defy the suffering, she plots tales that commanded herself to survive.

“There are too many enemies in life to be one of yourself, so I decided to refuse hate’s ambition.”

BETTY by Tiffany McDaniel is published by W & N through Hachette

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