Monday, November 30, 2020

Review: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Hmmm. Sometimes there's a book that gets praised to the sky and back, one that wins awards and accolades in all corners of the literary world, one that I can't wait to get my hands on, but that I just can't connect with, can't even begin to glimpse why all the acclaim and glory have been piled on it and unfortunately Terese Marie Mailhot's Heart Berries is one of those books.

This short, honest memoir in essays from Mailhot, a Canadian Indigenous woman, feels more like prose poetry than a cohesive nonfiction narrative. It is an on the page grappling with her abusive childhood, the loss of custody of her first child, her own mental illnesses, her destructive tendencies, her complicated and damaging relationships, motherhood, the creative drive, her identity as an indigenous woman and her dysfunctional, trauma-filled life. She is introspective and raw in her writing; it is heavy and deeply personal. But the narrative is choppy and fragmented making it a struggle to want to follow her in her jumbled stream of consciousness. Mailhot jumps forward and backward in time, leaving the reader completely untethered in her story. This makes for a slow and deliberate reading experience but this same slowness highlights the oftentimes meaningless and pretentious writing masquerading as deep and lyrical. "Every door is the same when I kneel in a corner--with a hand over my mouth." (p. 14) But there's also the occasional powerful truth woven in as well. Most of Mailhot's essays are addressed to a boyfriend, opening herself to him, explaining her past and her present, but Mailhot also addresses her mother in the final piece of the memoir, remembering, confronting, lamenting. The unconventional structure of the book allows for a disjointed and incomplete telling, brushing past some of the defining moments of her life so far without elaborating and stripping the emotional content back to bare bone. I felt nothing by the end except profound relief that I was finished with the book. Many others have claimed this as a magnificent and important work, so perhaps don't necessarily take my word for it.

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