Sorry it’s been a while – I’ve been so busy reading I forgot about sharing exactly what I’m reading!
I’ve read a lot of really awesome stuff recently, but I reeeeeaaaaally had to share this one with you next.
Heart Berries, Terese Marie Mailhot
I’ve taken a summary of the book from Goodreads as it’s a pretty good introduction to jump in with:
“Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.
Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.”
This book is an unusual one but it’s absolutely incredible. I don’t know how well you know Sylvia Plath but there’s a line she writes that ‘the blood jet is poetry’. This book brings that to life because my god, the blood jet really is poetry. Heart Berries is incredibly raw, vivid, almost Plath-ian and ‘confessional’, but its also so refined, carefully crafted and wrought, so the intimacy isn’t just dumped on you or exposed, but painstakingly built into art.
The vivacity, brutality and pure honesty of both language and content is refreshing – sometimes hit-you-in-the-face loud, and sometimes so subtle.
It’s not an easy read but the rhythm of her writing and the way she weaves words and disjointed syntax together is something you eventually fall into. Mailhot pushes the emotion via both content AND craft, into your very bones.
I love the way she writes about life, love, motherhood, mental illness, and she takes genres of abuse narrative and Native American writing and makes them hers, simultaneously defying and transcending claddification. This book shatters any box that could try to contain it.
Mailhot rejects white culture’s exoticised conceptions (a la Said’s Orientalism) of Native American mysticism but doesn’t disown those aspects of her culture – she just strips out the whites’ imposition of romanticism and mystical tropes and crafts her own magic with clarity and authenticity and a very personal, sometimes wavering, poignant yet strong voice.
One of my favourite quotes in the book is:
“In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution. I don’t even know that white people see transcendence the way we do. I’m not sure that their dichotomies apply to me.”
I can’t recommend this read enough! If you’re not already sold, I also recommend reading Roxane Gay’s review of it – it’s brilliant!
“Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is an astounding memoir in essays. Here, is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small. She writes of motherhood, loss, absence, want, suffering, love, mental illness, betrayal, and survival. She does this without blinking but to say she is fearless would be to miss the point. These essays are too intimate, too absorbing, too beautifully written, but never ever too much. What Mailhot has accomplished in this exquisite book is brilliance both raw and refined, testament.”
– Roxane Gay, author – Review of Heart Berries