Daughter of a “Woman as striking as a dream”, Betty is a whole, at the same time the heroine, the narrator and the title of this 700-page book which has just won the Fnac novel award. The genealogy doesn’t end there: the author, Tiffany McDaniel, 35, is the daughter of the real Betty, whose mother was white and father Cherokee. It is a family mural that takes place in Ohio in the 60s and 70s. The characters live there in a house that is claimed to be cursed. The scenery is magnificent, the racism alive, and the skin dark. The blood illuminates the text, the paternal affection and the sentences that we also want to remember.
1 – Is this a romance novel?
Not quite because assaults and morbid family secrets abound. But Betty is despite everything the picture of a couple who love each other, that of the parents of the heroine. The husband tells his wife that she is his “measured” : “Why am I your measure? – Because you are important […] you are my centimeter, my decimeter and my meter. The distance between your two hands is the distance that measures everything between the sun and the moon. Such things can only be measured by a woman. “ The adulated wife is special: “Mom takes the place of a million people on her own.” Nomadic, the couple cross the United States with their children, and the author mentions it with humor: “They went from town to town. Mom only seemed to get pregnant in one state to have the baby in another. ” The father is light as a feather, in communion with the earth, the plants, the trees, and the guarantor of the traditions of the Cherokees. He is a facilitator of rituals that does not impose any. But by dint of looking at nature, this man does not see the tragedy affecting those around him. Betty updates it: “Pain was my subject, love was no less.”
2 – Is it a feminist novel?
Yes, and from start to finish, including when Betty writes: “My father was made to be a father. And despite the problems that there may have been between my mother and him, he was also made to be a husband. “ For the Cherokees, “The earth is personified in the feminine”. So much so that it is the women who cultivate the land, because they carry within them the blood of the first woman of humanity. Betty is feminist from other, less direct angles. Born in the 1950s, the narrator is summoned by the principal of her school because she is wearing pants. But this garment attracts men’s eyes to the crotch: “Did you know that in places where women wear pants, crime is higher?” said the principal to the pupil. The novel, finally, is crossed by violent and bloody acts that Betty reveals.
3 – Is it a mythological story?
Without being strictly speaking, beliefs and traditions irrigate the book. It is an archaic and profound evil that Betty discovers who places an extract from the Bible in the foreground of each chapter. The style adopted by Tiffany McDaniel has the beauty and simplicity of a sacred text. The family home seems to come from the dawn of time: “She seemed to belong to the earth more than to humans.” Because he does not pay for words and he touches the truth, Betty brings to mind the novels of Faulkner. Moreover, it is a question of an ear of corn.
Betty Translated from the American by François Happe. Gallmeister, 720 pp., € 26.40, (ebook: € 17.99).