On the Savage Side

Knopf. Feb. 2023. 464p. ISBN 9780593320709. $29. F
Set in a hollowed-out Rust-Belt city, McDaniel’s latest (after the award-winning Betty) is inspired by the story of the Chillicothe Six, a group of women linked by drugs and prostitution who were murdered in 2014–15 in Chillicothe, OH—a case that’s still unsolved. Recast here to the 1980s–90s, the narrative focuses on a group of young women who call themselves the Chillicothe Queens, notably twin sisters Arc and Daffy. Intelligent and imaginative, their dreams are too soon derailed by poverty and drug use—both their parents’ and their own; by their teen years, they are turning tricks to pay for their habit, along with the rest of the Chillicothe Queens. One by one, the young women disappear, their bodies eventually turning up in the river. They’ve been murdered by an unknown figure they call the River Man, who is symbolic of all the predatory men in their lives.
VERDICT Narrated by the deceased Arc, McDaniel’s novel is by turns stark and poetic, a bleak and solemn elegy to lives that in another place and time might have been lived on the beautiful side. It’s also a tale of a nation unraveling, drowning in rivers of hopelessness and drug addiction.
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