Betty: A Novel by Tiffany McDaniel
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 1.5 MB
So begins the story of Betty Carpenter. Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a white mother and a Cherokee father, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit in the rural town of Breathed, Ohio, is one of poverty and violence–both from outside the family and, devastatingly, from within. The lush landscape, rich with birdsong, wild fruit, and blazing stars, becomes a kind of refuge for Betty, but when her family’s darkest secrets are brought to light, she has no choice but to reckon with the brutal history hiding in the hills, as well as the heart-wrenching cruelties and incredible characters she encounters.
Despite the hardships she faces, Betty is resilient. Her curiosity about the natural world, her fierce love for her sisters, and her father’s brilliant stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination, and in the face of all to which she bears witness, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write. She recounts the horrors of her family’s past and present with pen and paper and buries them deep in the dirt–moments that have stung her so deeply she could not tell them, until now.
Inspired by generations of her family, Tiffany McDaniel sets out to free the past by delivering this heartbreaking yet magical story–a remarkable novel that establishes her as one of the most important voices in American fiction.
Our Cherokee ancestors who managed to avoid going to this alien land called Oklahoma did so by hiding in the wilderness. But they were told if they wanted to stay, they would have to embrace the way of the white settlers. The higher powers had made it the law of the land that the Cherokee must be “civilized” or be taken from their home. They had little choice but to speak the English of the white man and convert to his religion. They were told Jesus had died for them, too.
Before Christianity, the Cherokee celebrated being a matriarchal and matrilineal society. Women were the head of the household, but Christianity positioned men at the top. In this conversion, Cherokee women were taken from the land they had once owned and worked. They were given aprons and placed inside the kitchen, where they were told they belonged. The Cherokee men, who had always been hunters, were told to now farm the land. The traditional Cherokee way of life was uprooted, along with the gender roles that had allowed women to have a presence equal to that of men.
Between the spinning wheel and the plow, there were Cherokee who fought to preserve their culture, but traditions became diluted. My father did his best to keep the water out of our blood by honoring the wisdom that had been passed down to him, like how to make a spoon from a squash leaf and stem or how to know when it’s time to plant corn.
“When the wild gooseberry bush has exploded in leaf,” he would say, “because the wild gooseberry is the first to open her eyes from her winter nap and say, ‘The earth is warm enough.’ Nature speaks to us. We just have to remember how to listen.”
My father’s soul was from another time. A time when the land was peopled by tribes who heard the earth and respected it. His own respect filled up inside him until he was the greatest man I ever knew. I loved him for this and more, like how he planted violets but never remembered they were purple. I loved him for getting his hair cut like a lopsided hat every Fourth of July and I loved him for holding a light on our coughs when we were sick.