A debut novel about a young woman who never lets her abusive family life get her down.
Young Beth endures abuse and demoralizing indifference from every member of her family, including her angry father and dismissive mother. Her father quits working and insists that his wife take a menial job to support the family and his alcoholism. Beth’s two siblings both have weighty senses of entitlement, and her younger brother, a racist crook, manipulates her at every opportunity. Beth seeks escape through her friends and her work, and she locks her bedroom door to protect her from her father’s daily drunken rages, but she can’t do anything when he takes her wages to provide half the family income. The book is set in the 1950s and ’60s, and Beth can’t seek outside help from a society only beginning to recognize child abuse. Huffman’s strong prose and Beth’s cleareyed acceptance of her situation give the novel a voice of strength and ambition. Although Beth complains vociferously throughout the book, she knows that the adversity she faces shapes her personality in ways she’d never change. Throughout, she addresses issues squarely, without flinching. Although savvy readers may suspect the truth about a family mystery, Huffman still manages to draw out the suspense. The final chapter lists the various fates of the family members and reads like a detached set of movie credits, but the mother’s fate may come as a shock to readers; she remains a tragic, haunting figure whose motivations and behaviors could bear further exploration. Beth’s later journey through marriage and motherhood is a mere footnote that might have provided more intriguing introspection. Despite a clear, compelling narrative, it also remains ambiguous whether this novel is purely fictional or autobiographical, but it should find a host of interested readers either way.
An exhilarating, unsentimental story of one woman’s triumph over a devastating childhood.