On the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel [Book Review]

Ooof, this was a tough one to get through. Read my review of the impeccably written “On the Savage Side” by Tiffany McDaniel.

This was a rough one, for sure! After reading the synopsis, I thought I had some idea of what I was about to read, but I did not. On the Savage Side was not only savage toward its characters but savage toward its readers as well. Author Tiffany McDaniel is a beautiful writer, but this book left me feeling heartbroken and seriously depressed. First, read the official synopsis, followed by my book review.

What the book is about:

Arcade and Daffodil are twin sisters born one minute apart. With their fiery red hair and thirst for an escape, they forge an unbreakable bond nurtured by both their grandmother’s stories and their imaginations. Together, they create a world where a patch of grass reveals an archaeologist’s dig, the smoke emerging from the local paper mill becomes the dust rising from wild horses galloping on the ground, and an abandoned 1950s convertible transforms into a time machine that can take them anywhere.

But the two sisters can’t escape the generational chaos that grips their family. Growing up in the shadow of the town, the sisters cling tight to one another. As an adult, Arcade wrestles with these memories of her life, just as a local woman is discovered drowned in the river. Soon, more bodies are found. While her friends disappear around her, Arcade is forced to reckon with the past while the killer circles ever closer. Arcade’s promise to keep herself and her sister safe becomes increasingly desperate while the powerful riptide of the savage side becomes more difficult to resist.

Drawing from the true story of women killed in her native Ohio, acclaimed novelist and poet Tiffany McDaniel has written a powerful literary testament and fearless elegy for missing women everywhere. []

My review:

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the writing was excellent, and yet I resented the story so much. Forgive me; I’m still not sure how to explain this one. Tiffany McDaniel is an outstanding writer, but this novel is so dark, depressing, and full of tragedy that I wanted it to end as soon as I started to read it. Unfortunately, it took quite a while to finish this, and I had to also read other books in between to break up the unbearable onslaught of trauma. I kept anticipating some levity, but it never arrived; instead, things worsened for the main characters with each chapter.

The plot follows sisters Arc and Daffodil growing up under some of the most dreadful circumstances imaginable. Their parents are drug addicts, and the majority of the women in their lives are prostitutes who allow the children to be sexually abused over and over again. As a result, the two girls never stood a chance from the moment they were born.

I can understand why some readers give this book a high rating. But because I despised the plot so much, I’ll give it three out of five stars for the beautiful writing alone. I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I chose the book, but I didn’t expect to walk away with a strong disdain for humanity. If you enjoy a profoundly gloomy and distressing read, this book is for you. Otherwise, skip it, no matter how good the writing is.