Tuesday 28 February 2023

On The Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel #OnTheSavageSide @wnbooks #BookReview


Arcade and Daffodil are twin sisters born one minute apart. With their fiery red hair and thirst for an escape, they form an unbreakable bond nurtured by their grandmother's stories. Together they disappear into their imagination and forge a world where a patch of grass reveals an archaeologist's dig, the smoke emerging from the local paper mill becomes the dust rising from wild horses galloping deep beneath the earth, and an abandoned 1950s convertible transforms into a time machine that can take them anywhere.

But no matter how hard they try, Arc and Daffy can't escape the generational ghosts that haunt their family. And so, left to fend for themselves in the shadow of their rural Ohio town, the two sisters cling tight to one another.

Years later, as the sisters wrestle with the memories of their early life, a local woman is discovered dead in the river. Soon, more bodies are left floating in the water, and as the killer circles ever closer, Arc's promise to keep herself and her sister safe becomes increasingly desperate - and the powerful riptide of the savage side more difficult to survive.

Drawing from the true story of women killed in Chillicothe, Ohio, acclaimed novelist and poet Tiffany McDaniel has written a moving literary testament and fearless elegy for missing women everywhere.

On The Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel is published by W&N in hardback on 02 March 2023. My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review. 

The inspiration for On The Savage Side is the unsolved murders of the Chillicothe Six. Six women who went missing in Ohio in 2015, some are still missing and the case remains unsolved. 

Tiffany McDaniel writes with a poetic grace that sweeps the reader along, despite the utter bleakness of the content. This is a literary blend of crime thriller and a coming-of-age story that at times is so emotionally challenging that I needed to take a break a couple of times during reading. 

The story begins when twin sisters Arc and Daffy are just young girls. Their father has died and their addict mother is hysterical. As their mother tears around the house, nailing their dead father's clothes to the window frames, the two girls seem to take this in their stride. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that they have experienced their mother's bizarre behaviour for many years. It is only the intervention of their maternal grandmother Mamaw Milkwood that gives a tiny bit of stability in their lives, until one day, she too is gone. 

The author skips from time zone to time zone. We meet the girls as children and we also meet them as twenty-year olds. It is Arc who narrates the story and her voice is strong, yet has such a sense of vulnerability and sadness ringing through it too.  Despite Mamaw's best intentions when the girls were small, they too find themselves echoing their own mother's life. Along with their friends, their world is made up of drugs and selling their bodies, and then the bodies begin to be found. 

This is a very dark, often brutal and incredibly emotional story. The beauty of the writing does little to hide the stark facts of the lives of these women, and of the evil that lurks within their community.  This author excels in characterisation, her ability to create such a sense of place and the almost dreamlike quality of the passages about the river that winds through the area tie seamlessly together to create a story that becomes unforgettable. 

Harrowing, yet gripping. Recommended by me. 

Tiffany McDaniel is a novelist, poet, and visual artist born and raised in Ohio. 

She is the author of The Summer That Melted Everything and BETTY.


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