If anyone was hoping for better times in 2021, they will have been sorely disappointed with the first week of the new year. With Lockdown 3.0, Brexit and the teeny, tiny issue of a would-be coup on the US Capitol in the space of just seven days, there’s not much to feel positive about just yet. But whilst the world goes mad around us all, at least there’s solace in the fact that books like Betty exist.
Before I go any further, I’m not saying Betty is all sunshines and rainbows. In fact, it’s really the opposite. Betty pays homage to the author, Tiffany McDaniel’s mother, and charts her coming of age in what can only be described as bleak and rocky circumstances.
But, at the same time as being dark and gritty, Betty is mythological and poetic. It effortlessly marries the harsh realities of poverty, domestic and sexual abuse and racism in 1960’s America with the culture and beauty of Native American myth and symbolism. And through it all, it’s also a story about womanhood and female power.
Betty does that amazing thing that only a few other novels do; it stops time. I was so absorbed, I could have read it forever. It’s one of those rare books that’s so accurate in its portrayal of humanity (and inhumanity) that you just get it, even as someone completely removed from the setting and story in every possible way.
In any other book, this story would be depressing. But, whilst tragic in so many ways, it has all the tropes of that higher plane of tragedy that connects in a deeper way. Betty could so easily get lost in its own bleakness, bringing the reader with it. Instead, it gives us something to think about, without being preachy, and connects us to our humanity and emotion through the crafting of its words.