Review: Heart Berries

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Review for "Heart Berries: A Memoir" by Terese Mailhot (2018)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Let me start this review off by saying the Terese Mailhot is a sensational writer. “Heart Berries” is a raw, personal account of Mailhot’s life and experiences as a First Nations woman who has witnessed abuse, poverty, addiction, as well as generations of family members who have passed through Canada’s brutal residential school system, which separated indigenous children from their families and, in many cases, subjected them to sexual and physical abuse. Mailhot talks about this and a myriad of other topics in her writing, often taking on the form of missives to former lovers.

There were definitely moments in this book where I found myself underlining passages in my Kindle, saying “yes!” But then these flashes of brilliance would signal the moment when the magic would end, because moments later the author would switch time, location, and subject without warning. I am a bit confused with the classification of this book as a memoir, because the selections together as a whole seemed terribly disjointed and didn’t tell a cohesive story. The lack of cohesion put up a barrier for me–I wanted to understand her and the writing was certainly drawing me in, but the lack of a solid story here made this something I couldn’t access.

I almost feel bad for giving this two stars, because this book has gotten glowing reviews in the mainstream press. I definitely like the way the author writes, but I just don’t think this is my kinda book.

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Review: Where the Dead Sit Talking

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Review for “Where the Dead Sit Talking” by Brandon Hobson (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Set in late 1980’s rural Oklahoma, “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is the sad, dark tale of a 15-year-old Native American teenager named Sequoyah, sent to live with a foster family after his mother’s imprisonment. From the outset of the novel, it is evident that Sequoyah carries many emotional scars, having dealt with his mother’s alcoholism and abuse in previous detention settings.

Harold and Agnes Troutt are also the foster parents of two other children: George, a younger, also emotionally damaged boy (his behavior strongly suggests that he’s possibly on the autism spectrum), and Rosemary, an older Native American girl with whom Sequoyah becomes obsessed. They bond over their shared heritage (he is Cherokee, she is Kiowa), smoking cigarettes in her bedroom at night and sharing their deepest secrets with each other. Their relationship is equal parts platonic and disturbing, with Sequoyah’s violent fantasies and obsessive thoughts of Rosemary taking up much of the novel.

This book has a very dark, brooding tone all throughout. There is no happy ending or ‘triumph’ by the main character. What is here is an unsettling silence at the heart of the story that betrays the notion that even though everything seems ok on the surface, it’s apparent that it isn’t. Despite the Troutts kindness and “good” intentions, they are powerless to stop the human catastrophe that simmers beneath the surface of their home. I think the author does a great job of depicting how even the most well-intentioned acts of goodness can be misdirected and to the complete detriment of the individual.

I highly recommend this book.