ON THE SAVAGE SIDE is a new novel by Tiffany McDaniel, author of BETTY. Based on the unsolved murders of six women in Chillicothe, Ohio in 2015, the novel centers around the lives of twins Arcade (Arc) and Daffodil (Daffy). The book opens when the girls are just six years old. When their heroin addicted parents are unable to properly care for them, their grandmother Mamaw Milkweed steps in. Their mother Adelyn briefly becomes sober and convinces Mamaw to return the girls to her care, but Adelyn is doomed to fail soon thereafter. The twins father dies of an overdose and the girls remain in the care of their mother and aunt, heroin addicts and sex workers. When Mamaw is hit by a car and dies, the twins are left with no options. The neglect is severe – on their birthdays they draw pictures of a cake and pretend to eat it; they are raped by one of their mother’s johns, their mother too drug addled to stop him and their aunt too afraid.
This is a dark story, told from the perspective of Arc, and there are few moments of hope. The girls, though determined not to follow in their mother’s footsteps, are hamstrung by abuse and neglect. Though the girls show some success on the high school swim team and an academic interest in archeology (Arc, loves to dig for relics), with hopes of a college career, they fall into the same abyss as their mother and aunt. The only saving grace is their group of friends – other addicts and sex workers – who form a tight bond. But as women start showing up in the river, they worry about which of them will be next.
McDaniel has crafted a narrative that weaves back and forth through time. No matter how determined, the girls are left to wrestle with the demons of their past, hobbled by generational curses over which they have no control. Sadly, this is a story about how and who determines the value of a life. When sex workers and addicts are the victims, the police have little interest in finding the killer. The real-life crime remains unsolved.
McDaniel’s strength lies in her lyrical prose and character development. I cared for the twins and their ragtag family of friends, but I also despaired for their future, and raged at a world where the women were not considered victims, but somehow implicated in their own demise. Women in abusive relationships are often told they deserve to be mistreated and women who use drugs and prostitute themselves to make a living are told they are asking for it. ON THE SAVAGE SIDE is a testimony to missing women everywhere. Bravo to McDaniel for lifting up these silenced voices.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews and my reviews on Superior Reads on WTIP Radio, 90.7 Grand Marais, Minnesota and on the web at http://www.superiorreads.blog.