Review: ON THE SAVAGE SIDE by Tiffany McDaniel
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on February 14, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
On the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel is not for the faint of heart. Set in an Ohio small town and inspired by the real-life unsolved murders of six women known as the Chillicothe Six, On the Savage Side explores how heroin addiction can rip apart a family and a community and how predators are lurking everywhere, just waiting to snatch up the pieces. It’s both a disturbing and haunting story, probably one of the darkest I’ve ever read.
The story follows Arcade and Daffodil (Arc and Daffy), twin sisters who are born to heroin-addicted parents. As their parents struggle with their addiction, life is pretty rough for the family, and when their dad dies from an overdose when the girls are six years old, things go from bad to worse. The one bright spot in their lives is their beloved grandmother, Mamaw Milkweed, who showers the girls with love and affection and teaches them the lesson that life has both a savage side and a beautiful side and that the key to life is to make the savage side beautiful. Mamaw Milkweed uses the underside of a crochet square she is working on to illustrate her point, tidying up the dangling strings to make both sides of the square beautiful. Arc and Daffy take this message to heart, and using their vivid imaginations, they try to find the beautiful side of every savage thing they witness in their young lives. Some of the loveliest moments of the book are those scenes between the girls and their grandmother, and those moments where the girls are weaving together imaginative stories to try to make life seem a little less horrific.
McDaniel makes it so easy to fall in love with Arc and Daffy and to mourn the loss of their innocence as their mother sinks further and further into her addiction with each passing year, even turning to prostitution to help pay for drugs. It’s absolutely heartbreaking when the girls start to follow in their mother’s footsteps, both in terms of drug use and prostitution. When a serial killer starts dumping the bodies of young women into the local river, the story takes on an even more ominous tone. I loved that Arc makes a vow to keep her sister safe – their bond is another one of the beautiful moments in the book – but at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like the odds were stacked against them, especially when their town is filled with predatory, sadistic men, any of whom seemed like a likely suspect, and no one in the town seemed all that invested in finding out who the killer is.
The story is filled with twists and turns and I don’t want to give any of those away, so I’m going to pivot from the plot to talk about the writing. This may be one of the darkest stories I’ve ever read, but it’s also one of the most beautifully written. I loved the balance between the beautiful and the ugly moments of the story, and found McDaniel’s storytelling to be truly captivating and downright poetic at times. In particular, there are several chapters sprinkled throughout where the river itself becomes a character in the story, describing the women’s bodies as they are dumped into the water.
Filled with just about every trigger warning imaginable, from drug abuse and sexual abuse all the way to animal cruelty, On the Savage Side won’t be for everyone. But if you like a haunting and emotional read that takes a raw and unflinching look at a dark subject matter, On the Savage Side is a must-read. I know it’s a book I won’t be forgetting about anytime soon.
I agree 100% with everything you said. This book is so hard to read at times, but you cannot stop reading. Have you read Betty yet? I think I loved Betty even more, but it’s another heart ripper and you definitely need a break between books😁
I had no idea this one was based on real events. That makes it even more chilling. The beautiful writing is an interesting contrast to the dark subject matter.
Tanya @ Girl Plus Books recently posted…Short Take Reviews: Consolation and Conviction by Corinne Michaels
Oof, such tough, dark topics! I like the relationship between the girls and their grandmother – it’s tough knowing it wasn’t enough to keep them from going down a dark path.
I just knew this would be great!
Jonetta | Blue Mood Café recently posted…Encore in Death by J. D. Robb #JDRobb @StMartinsPress
This sounds very emotional, glad it was such a great read for you, Suzanne.
Carla recently posted…It’s One of Us by J.T. Ellison #BookReview #BlogTour #Excerpt @htp_books @thrillerchick
I’m sure it is heartbreaking and dark. The emotional response is because it is so well developed and written.
Anne – Books of My Heart recently posted…The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz @juliabartz @AtriaBooks
Nice to hear that the darker moments were balanced with touching, beautiful ones. It does sound like a harrowing, unforgettable story.
Rachel @Waves of Fiction recently posted…5 Romance Book Giveaway!
Oh this sounds like it would be such an emotional read – and unfortunately much too upsetting for me to read. I love that there is that focus on the light side and there is that brightness and love side with the sisters and their grandmother – but I don’t think I could deal with all the dark bits!
Mica – Away From The Blue recently posted…Colourful Kmart Linen Shorts and Camis With Tan Crossbody Bag
That sounds like an amazing read but based on your trigger warnings, I don’t think I am in the right state of mind to read such a book!
Sophie recently posted…A migraine and a business offer. The Sunday Post 26/02/2023
Oh this sounds amazing.. thanks for sharing. I think I already have it on my TBR list..
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Good to know it’s pretty dark, but I’m glad the writing was beautiful and it did have some nice moments IN the book.
Whew, I think your description of beautiful but dark writing won me over. Any author who can make that happen, I need to read!