FICTION

Betty

Knopf. Aug. 2020. 480p. ISBN 9780525657071. $26.95. F
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McDaniel returns to the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio for her second novel (after The Summer That Melted Everything), presented as a fictionalized account of her mother Betty’s family and told from Betty’s point of view. The story is an ode to Betty’s father, Landon Carpenter, a man of Cherokee descent, who is wise in Native American Indian lore, natural medicines, wood carving, and other unlucrative pursuits. Landon has a silver tongue and can translate their world of rural poverty into mythic language, a skill that is passed to Betty, the writer in the family. One of eight children, a few of whom die young, Betty is the only one to inherit her dad’s black hair and dark complexion, for which she suffers discrimination at school and sometimes within her own family. McDaniel’s writing is rife with striking images and surprising turns of phrase that are at first wondrous and childlike but display growing insight as Betty begins to comprehend the family’s troubled past.
VERDICT In McDaniel’s telling, members of this hardscrabble family stride through their Ohio community like minor gods, leaving amazement in their wake. Highly recommended; a coming-of-age novel that is a treat for lovers of stylistic prose. [See Prepub Alert, 1/15/20.]

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