Home » Newpages Blog » Betty Superman

Betty Superman

Ten stories make up Tiff Holland’s collection, Betty Superman. The stories themselves are short; altogether they fill only thirty-four pages, stapled into a lovely little edition from Rose Metal Press. But the size of Holland’s collection is deceiving. These stories cover the span of a life as only linked shorts can. They invite the reader to fill in the spaces between the wacky and outrageous scenarios our narrator and her mother, Betty, find themselves in.

Ten stories make up Tiff Holland’s collection, Betty Superman. The stories themselves are short; altogether they fill only thirty-four pages, stapled into a lovely little edition from Rose Metal Press. But the size of Holland’s collection is deceiving. These stories cover the span of a life as only linked shorts can. They invite the reader to fill in the spaces between the wacky and outrageous scenarios our narrator and her mother, Betty, find themselves in.

We meet Betty in the first story, “Dragon Lady,” and the description reads like something from a personnel form at a company you wouldn’t want to work for: “What she wears: sweaters, tight over missile-silo brassieres. Pink. Yellow. Two pairs of support hose and open-toed shoes, even in winter. Estée Lauder perfume. Frills. Too much hairspray on her cotton candy hair. Make-up, every minute she is awake. False teeth.”

The description goes on, through the obnoxious singing, the inappropriate dancing, the bad job, the bad mom, the bad habits, and ends with the emphysema that will color our understanding of Betty in the following nine stories. We see Betty as the narrator sees her, and that means that our picture of her shifts all the time. In “Hot Work” we see her as a child might, and in “The Barberton Mafia” Betty and the narrator are almost equals, or the very least, on the most even of mother-daughter playing fields.

Betty is complex, and the format of this book (the winner of Rose Metal Press’s fifth annual Short Short Chapbook Contest) allows for those complexities to exist in a way that a novel could not. A novel would be given to explanation and exposition and some sort of superstructure in the time-space continuum that Tiff Holland has no need for. Instead, we are free to move from third husbands to animal carcasses to lesbian aunts and the men they love. Our time in the transvestite beauty parlor is all too short, and yet, I’m happy to move on to Shakespeare in gardening hats and domestic assault.

So skillful is Holland in creating empty space that one comes to savor the things made explicit all the more: “Sometimes I had my students do ‘procedural writing’—write how to do an everyday activity in the smallest detail.” And from there, we are with Tiff Holland’s narrator as she explicitly describes to Betty the process of pumping gasoline. So tender are her directions, and careful her considerations that there is no doubt in the readers’ minds of her concern for her mother and the millions of everyday obstacles that stand before her.

It takes care, too, to keep from conflating Holland with her narrator. Their histories have some overlap, and the book itself is dedicated to the author’s mother, Polly. It’s an exercise in imagination to think of the litany of things that Holland has kept from us—for being too personal, too sad, and too honest—if in fact these stories are mixed with truth. Whether we take this little book as fiction-washed memoir or not, Tiff Holland offers us glimpses and peeks at a world and a family that it would be—if not a pleasure—interesting to know.

Spread the word!