“I told him to pay attention to the actual words they were shouting. Everyone sounded mad as hornets, but really they were having a lovely conversation. You had to listen to what they were saying, not how they were saying it. I told him, That’s just how Westovers talk!”

One of the earliest insights into Faye’s psyche stems from an anecdote she shares about her brother witnessing Gene’s cousins’ roughhousing. Their actions were extreme and shocking enough to Faye’s brother that he wanted to call the police. Faye, however, demonstrating what will become her trademark neutrality, insists that there’s little to worry about. Her ability to justify all sorts of behavior will only grow as the memoir continues, and illustrates that she is either in denial of all things Gene, or she has found a self-preservation tactic that allows her to ignore what she isn’t ready to confront.

“I wasn’t any good at trig in high school,” Mother moaned, slamming the book shut. “And I’ve forgotten what little I knew.”

Time and time again, Faye’s actions hint at a longing for a more enlightened life. Her dabbling in midwifery, or her healing work with herbs and oils, reveal moments in which Tara can see her becoming a fully capable and independent person. However, Faye often gets in her own way, admits defeat, or caves to Gene.

“Of all my children,” she said, “you were the one I thought would burst out of here in a blaze. I didn’t expect it from Tyler — that was a surprise — but you. Don’t you stay. Go. Don't let anything stop you from going.”

Expecting Faye to scold her for not obeying God or her father, Tara is shocked to find that not only is Faye supportive of her attending school, but she is adamant that Tara do so. Moments like this are particularly heartbreaking for Tara, who keeps seeing a frustrating conflict emerge in her mother; she is capable of breaking from tradition and defying Gene, but is so steeped in his ways that she doesn’t.

“You’re the only one strong enough to handle him,” she’d said. “I can’t, and your father can’t. It has to be you.”

This moment illustrates the extent to which Faye has failed her daughter, by putting the onus of stopping her violent brother squarely on her. By wishing Tara hadn’t gone to school so she might fulfill her role as the only one strong enough to handle Shawn, Faye places Tara in a role she shouldn’t be in and guilts her for putting herself first. Difficult though the memory is, when Tara confronts Faye about it and Faye admits her own failings, Tara concedes Faye is finally being a mother to her.