A review by effy
On the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel


This book was one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2023 and IT DID NOT LET ME DOWN.

In this book we are following twins Daffy and Arc from their childhood where they watch their mother disappear to drug addiction, using prostitution as a way to pay for her habit. 
Spoiler We see the twins suffer at the hands of one of their mother's clients and later to turn to drugs to escape the painful truth of their trauma. As adults, the girls are prostituting themselves to pay for their own drug habits.
Whilst their adult life if far from happy, they have found a sense of community and create their own slices of joy. That is until women begin turning up dead in the river and the police are completely uninterested.

This was a really hard story to read as you really grew attached to the twins and wanted for them to be able to carve out lives for themselves filled with the true happiness that they deserved. At no point does this story entertain any form of victim-blaming but instead paints a very complex picture of generational trauma as well as trauma in general.

One thing that really stood out for me was the feeling of dread creeping up my spine that every single male character in this book evoked. I genuinely don't think there was a single man who didn't give me the creeps.

The twists of this book were actually next level. I guess the biggest one being 
Spoilerthe fact that Daffy had dies as a child and was just living through Arc.
It was kinda utterly bonkers but I could see that groundwork from literally the first line when I was going back and reviewing my favourite quotes from this book. This is definitely a book that begs for a re-read if only to understand how you missed it on first read. The second twist is a strange one because 
Spoiler I felt like Arc's death was a twist. The reason this is strange is because Arc tells you in the first chapter that she is dead and then this is repeated throughout the book that she is dead. Her death nonetheless came as a shock to me, partially because the chapter(s) leading up to her death were framed in a way where Arc's life seemed to be turning around permanently. Basically there was a false sense of safety where the reader is lulled into believing that Arc is talking about metaphorically dying and it is just who she was in Chillicothe that died. Nope, just as Arc is set to leave, she is murdered.
That one line had to be one of the most heartbreaking things that I have ever read, comparable to The Arrival of Someday or A Little Life.

This book was a little surreal at times but that very much added to the experience and the immersion.

I would highly recommend this book but it isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea because of the surreal elements and caution needs to be taken to look up trigger warnings because it is ROUGH.

Favourite quotes:

SpoilerThe first sin was believing that we would never die. The second sin was believing that we were alive in the first place.

SpoilerWe gave them smiles because it was a drawing, and in drawings you don't have to tell the truth.

SpoilerA witch is not a pointy hat or warts. A witch is merely a woman who is punished for being wiser than a man. That's why they burned her. They tried to burn away her power because a woman who says more than she's supposed to say, and does more than she's supposed to do, is a woman they'll try to silence and destroy.

SpoilerNo one will ask me... but I know why that rock is gone. It's gone because the Grand Canyon was once a little girl who was hurt. And she took the record of all that hurt and she buried it. Made it disappear. As if it never even happened in the first place.

SpoilerWho do you tell about the demons when the demons are the ones who you tell?

Being a woman

SpoilerI wanted to tell him they weren't broken lines. They were a collection of all the things a woman is and can be. That the spaces were not something coming apart but something coming together.

SpoilerThey say prostitution is the oldest profession recorded as long as long as history has been. In the Second World War, they called prostitutes "comfort women". Those paid by the Japanese military to service upward of a hundred men a day. Some of these "women" were not women at all. They were little girls. After I'd heard the word prostitute for the first time as a kid when someone had called Mom and Aunt Clover that very word, I decided I would be like the Greeks, the Aztecs, the civilisations before me, who had believed in gods possessing powers we humans crave. Prostitute. She would be a god with nine arms. An odd number that she swung back and forth with the pendulum of time. Prostitute. She would have nine hands, but only eight thumbs. Prostitute. Her hair blowing in the wind as she outruns all those who chase her. Prostitute. No matter the power of my mythical female god, I knew sitting there on that cold pavement, that there was little power women had on the street. Still I had to try. So I imagined my nine-armed god floating in the sky, her arms outstretched to me, bathing me in her warm blue light. Her long dress skimming the top of the sidewalk, and a pair of wings opening against the sky.

SpoilerWhere would we be if no one had ever said the word God? Had never said the word heaven? Hell? All those things which deepen the shade of the ripe fruit. Where would we be without a creation story? Without the say of sin? Where would we be if we could just live without the fear that the life we've had has not been good enough to spend eternity with the harps? No sense of shame or guilt or of doing the wrong thing. Who was the first idiot to say, 'We are more than evolution. We are morals and ethics and creation. We are the feel, the made, the what that has come from the hipbones of a God above.' Truth is, we're all just pieces of shit the universe has born out of its ass. Now, that's a philosophy I stand by.

SpoilerWe make believe that we ride among stars wearing crowns. But the only things resting on top of our heads is the hand of a john whose sweat we taste just before he pays us to swallow him.

SpoilerI thought if you smiled in a photograph, you smiled forever, and anything else that came after that smile on film didn't matter because the moment that was captured on film was the moment that mattered for eternity. I guess it was just another myth for the heart to believe.

SpoilerAnd you know what? When it's inside you, it does turn the savage side beautiful. Nothing feels bad here, Arc. All the sadness goes away. The warmth washes over you. It's the most magnificent thing. It makes me feel like glass. The way it breaks me into pieces. But I love being broken by it. Because the next time I use it, it makes me whole again and it holds me so tight. It loves me. It reaches me up to the clouds in the sky, and it makes me fall into the earth, singing with the flower bulbs I'd planted with Mamaw Milkweed. Your stories weren't turning anything into the beautiful side, Arc. This stuff does.

SpoilerBut I didn't prepare myself for the feeling. The overwhelming sense of peace, the warm wash of euphoria that took every single drop of my pain away. I never knew such a feeling could exist. It spoke to me. Told me it would protect me, keep me safe, and close the doors on all the things that had once hurt me. Sweet lies that glistened, and I believe them. It was a single moment that made the idea of returning to life unbearable.

SpoilerThe urge to be free from the truths that hurt too much to know.

SpoilerA woman who is hard to tame is a woman who is easy to blame.

SpoilerAddiction is a thief. It steals the minutes from the day. The color of the leaves on the trees, the answer to the question, Who am I? The thief doesn't go completely away because you've stopped holding the needle to your arm. Sobriety is just a better hiding spot for the minutes of the day, the color of the sky, the answer to the question, Who am I?

SpoilerIt's hard to start over in a place you've already finished last in.

SpoilerSometimes the only thing left to do is to be a beautiful girl, nice enough not to scream when they break you over their knee.

SpoilerA daughter is a woman lost at sea. A mother is the one who saves her. But if she's not there, the daughter will always be lost.

Spoiler"Do you know why I call you Arc?" She smiled out upon the river. "It's not because you dig in the dirt like an archaeologist or like when Mom calls you Arc. I call you Arc not with a c but with a k. Like the ark that saved everyone from the flood. You're my ark, you always have been. There to save me when the flood have come. But the thing about saving someone in the flood is that you have to get in the water, too. Sometime you don't get back out. I drowned you with me, Arc."

SpoilerNo matter how hard we try to hold on to the past, you can't ever get those things back.

SpoilerWhat do they have in common, Arc? I'll tell you what they have in common. The police don't look for them when they go missing. Women like my daughter. Like you. You are a rock. A stick. A pile of dirt. And you are allowed to disappear as if you never even had a name. But she has a name. They refuse to say it, so I'll have to say it for them.

SpoilerI wished the wounds I gave him to be the last open wounds in the world, but I knew they would only be for second it took another man to raise his fist.

SpoilerAnd even though Daffy had never done drugs, she ended up in the river due to them. Lives lost to addiction are not always because the victim was the addict. Sometimes you die because the person you love is one. In Daffy's case, that was our mother.

SpoilerSometimes folks have a hard time understanding through the slur what she's saying. Drugs change the way people listen to you. They discount what you say and will oftentimes force a nod, if only to escape having to ask a million and one times for you to repeat it and it speak clearer. Worst yet, they'll laugh at you. At the way you saunter, at the way you talk.

Spoiler... even ghosts shiver in boundless space.

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