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Tiffany McDaniel

Author of Betty

7 Works 1,054 Members 66 Reviews

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Includes the name: Tiffany McDaniel

Works by Tiffany McDaniel


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Oh boy do I have some thoughts.

I tried to read this book months ago. I didn't like it so I put it down. But I went back to it with fresh eyes and an open mind, and now after reading the whole book carefully, I can safely say… I still don't like it.

Immediately the tone of this book irked me. The author makes every description florid and off-the-wall original. Hands aren't just hands they're "...wetlands and his fingers the bulrushes that grew at the edges of them.", the main character claims to have heard someone describe his home town as, "...the scar of the paradise we lost.", his brother's eyes look like Russia "...the largest country in the world of his face.". This over the top description goes double for characters. Every character is an overwrought, unbearably twee parody of uniqueness. Stella is a housewife with intense agoraphobia who decorates the rooms of her house to be different countries and says she's "going to" England or Brazil when she goes to the kitchen or a bedroom. The protagonist's father is an Atticus Finch type named Autopsy Bliss who sees the law as God's divine filter and takes to writing invitations to the devil in the local paper. Elohim is an aggressively vegetarian dwarf who eats dinner at a dining table set on his front porch everyday. And this is EVERY character we spend any time with.

It just exhausts the reader. Moreover, by making everyone so quirky and unique, it ruins the effect. When discussing his father's name, Autopsy, the protagonist admits it's an "acutely strange name" but that his mother who gave it to him was an "acutely strange woman". Strangeness, acute or otherwise, is completely sapped of meaning in a novel where EVERYONE is bizarre and quirky to the nth degree.

On top of that the characters almost never act like human beings. Autopsy’s mother was a devout Christian until she slipped one day in her kitchen and God wasn’t there to catch her, then she immediately became a church vandalizing atheist. Elohim finds out his wife has been cheating on him so he makes a phone call and asks the operator to “connect him to God”. Fielding, as an adult, writes his sins on scraps of aluminum foil so that they look beautiful from a distance. And on and on. These actions are all very poetic and meaning laden, but in the world of the book they’re also things people apparently literally did, something that strains the imagination and rolls the eyes.

This disconnect might not be so bad if the author didn't also firmly ground the book in reality. As the first chapter reminds us, it's 1984, the Macintosh computer is out, AIDS is making headlines, and "Cruel Summer" is on the radio. The disconnect between this setting and the people that inhabit it is jarring at best, tasteless at worst. It can be difficult to care about characters that seem like cartoons most of the time, and is downright puzzling when the tone of the book shifts to include things like suicide, serial murder, and cannibalism. It seems like the author should have chosen to write either a poetic book with a style similar to magical realism, or a gritty and dark novel about man inhumanity to man, but by trying to do them together she fails at both.

Overall the whole book felt like nothing so much as a very well made cake, delicious but completely drowned out by about ten pounds of meticulously crafted icing filigree. The substance of the main event was lost due incessant tampering, adding, and unnecessary flourishes that went nowhere.
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Autolycus21 | 32 other reviews | Oct 10, 2023 |
“In life, there is a savage side and a beautiful side.”

Set in Chillicothe, Ohio, On the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel revolves around twin sisters Arcade ”Arc” and Farren “Daffy” Doggs. Raised by their addict mother Adelyn and their Aunt Clover both of whom are prostitutes, Arc and Daffy spend their time dreaming of a life away from the hell they call home, drawing on the cement floor of their home with markers gifted to them by their maternal grandmother Mamaw Milkweed. The time the sisters spend with her, listening to her stories full of magic, life lessons and words of wisdom is the only bright spot in their miserable childhood.

“Wings were the one gift we kept giving ourselves. Each year we would draw them with more feathers, hoping they would be big enough to be real. No matter how hard we wished, or how large we drew the wings, we never got more than a foot off the ground, the highest we could jump on any given day.”

Their childhood comes to an abrupt end after their grandmother dies in a tragic accident when they were nine years old. Sexually abused and with no one looking out for them, they are left to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, the darkness of their childhood follows them into their adult lives and what follows is a painful cycle of sexual abuse and prostitution, violence and substance abuse, and ultimately tragedy. The friends they make along the way lead into some beautiful heartfelt moments of friendship and support but with each of them struggling to step out of the darkness in their lives, the friends are unable to keep themselves and one another out of harm’s way. As evil lurks in their community, targeting women like themselves, law enforcement turns a blind eye only compounding the tragedy in the lives of these women who have been profiled, judged and victimized their whole lives.

“When a woman disappears, how is she remembered? By her beautiful smile? Her pretty face? The drugs in her system? Or by the johns who all have dope breath and graceless desires?”

On the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel is a dark, brutal, atmospheric and heartbreaking read. The narrative flits between the past and the present day when Arc and Daffy are twenty years old. The author develops her characters with meticulous detail and weaves their stories together seamlessly. I put down this book multiple times but was unable to stay away from it for too long. Exceptionally well-written, this is a compelling read that will stay with me for a long time. With consistent pacing and a tightly woven plot, featuring Arc and Daffy and their friends Thursday, Nell, Violet and Indigo the author tells an emotionally hard-hitting story inspired by the unsolved murders of the Chillicothe Six. This is not an easy read but a powerful one.

Many thanks to the author, Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor and NetGalley for the much-appreciated digital review copy. All opinions expressed in this review are my own, The book is due to be released on February 14, 2023.

“We humans have always been in pain. History tells us that in the artifacts civilizations have left behind. Pain is there in the broken vases, the fractured poetry, the overwhelming music we have played for centuries. We belong to grief until the engine goes out. Then we belong to the dirt, our bodies identical to other fallen things.”

⚠ child-neglect, sexual abuse of a minor, sexual violence and substance abuse.
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srms.reads | 7 other reviews | Sep 4, 2023 |
I don’t really have the right thing to say. When I read ‘Betty’ I struggled to articulate what it had meant to me, personally, but also what it had made known to me in the reading. It imprinted upon me in a way that remains, nearly as vivid as the day it was placed. Earlier this year I read ‘The Summer that Melted Everything’ and it spoke to a place and a time that I recognized, familiar and terrible and present.

As I closed the final pages of ‘On the Savage Side’, on what has been a particularly challenging day… as I collect these thoughts before they become to precious to share… as I move through the grief for things lost, real and imagined— I am in awe of the tenderness, empathy, honesty and love, with which this horrific, relentless story, was told. Stories matter for the voice they give to the voiceless. Stories matter as they navigate the uncharted.

It matters.

Based on the mystery surrounding the real life, “Chillicothe Six” we follow the story of Arc Doggs, her twin sister and friends in a very real, small town, plagued by poverty and addiction and corruption. They live life on “the savage side”, a place that people see as dark and devoid of love and meaning… but there IS love there. And these lives matter. I don’t recommend this broadly. It’s triggering in many many ways. But it is magnificent. And in light of any more of a review, I will share the names of the real women, just as Tiffany McDaniel has done. You are not forgotten.

Charlotte Trego
Tameka Lynch
Wanda Lemons
Shasta Himelrick
Timberly Claytor
Tiffany Sayre
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jo_lafaith | 7 other reviews | Aug 20, 2023 |



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