i enjoyed The Summer that Melted Everything a bunch, but Betty; a standalone with spillover into TSTME, has so much more weight. i remember bits and pieces from The Summer that Melted Everything—i remember the language being striking, i remember the framework and a few details in particular, but this one is going to stay in my brain for a lot longer, and there are specific scenes i know are with me for life; not as fond memories of a book i enjoyed, but as straight-up reader scars.
for me, that’s a good thing, but some people’ll be too gentle for this book, and they will read it and low-star it because it made them too sad or uncomfortable but when you consider it’s a family saga inspired by the life of mcdaniel’s own mother, it becomes like that joke about the man and the boy walking through the woods, where the boy says “hey mister, it’s getting dark and i’m scared.” and the man says “how do you think i feel, i have to walk back alone.”
(‘course, in this case, it would be a girl—there are so many ways a girl can hurt. and if A girl comes of age against the knife isn’t just begging to be tattooed across all the clavicles of lilith fair, i don’t know what is.)
in any event—i don’t know what is hand-on-bible truth here or what has been inflated for dramatic effect, but even if everything in this book was conjured up out of the clear blue sky, day after day this world reminds us it is full of horrorshows and people who have survived things others are too lily-livered to even read about. and that, to me, seems insensitive.
this book is sad. it is SAD. it is beautiful and broken and filled with tenderness and love and cruelty and neglect and it is SEARING. i cannot emphasize enough that, like life, it is a mixture of sad and lovely. although, also like life, for every sad you see coming, there’ll be two that’ll catch you off guard.
i will admit, it took me a minute to get into it. the language isn’t as engorged as it was in The Summer that Melted Everything, but there was something a little fiddly and twee to the beginning that didn’t grab me right away but once it did, i was thunderstruck, rapt, unable to look away &etc. i belonged to it.
mcdaniel has excellent control of the narrative, handling foreshadowing and discovery like a boss, and making you care about (almost) every member of this family, even at their least sympathetic.
a loud recommend for this book. it did things to me.
”God hates us.”
“The Carpenters?” I asked.
“Women.” She dabbed the lipstick against my lips, using her pinkie to smooth it into the corners. “He made us from the rib of man. That has been our curse ever since. Because of it, men have the shovel and we have the land. It’s right between our legs. There, they can bury all their sins. Bury ‘em so deep, no one knows about ‘em except for them and us.”
With a delicate step back she looked at me, her eyes cutting where they landed.
“My, my, Betty girl.” she smiled. “Red is not your color, darlin’.”
oh and p.s—whatever landon’s “pudding pie” is; this wondrous magic of “multicolored gelatin cubes suspended in pink gelatin,” i want the recipe.