Some books are so unremittingly personal that I am driven to distraction. This collection of achingly intimate essays—not quite chronological, in broken narrative, shifting between past and present tense—are addressed to “you” (me?!), which unnerved my inner WASP. TMI, dear author! Put a tourniquet on this open vein, you’re going to die and stain the carpet.
Things are intense from page FOUR:
The ugly truth is that I lost my son Isadore in court. The Hague Convention. The ugly of that truth is that I gave birth to my second son as I was losing my first. My court date and my delivery aligned. In the hospital, they told me that my first son would go with his father.
“What about this boy,” I said, with Isaiah in my arms.
“They don’t seem interested yet,” my lawyer said.
So it tracked when I learned that Mailhot’s book began as a therapeutic writing exercise in a psychiatric ward. Stories are our oldest tools for interpreting and making meaning out of suffering, out of events and people we can’t control. The nurses on my psych ward gave me paper and pencil, too. Except my mind was so shattered that I could barely form letters. Those chicken-scratched pages were thrown away as soon as I came home. To forget my month of involuntary confinement would be a mercy. The fact that Mailhot wants to remember her experience and share it with the entire world is unfathomable to me. But then again, it’s not about me.
Heart Berries is about Terese, a bright First Nations woman who is both invisible and too much, both attractive and repulsive. Her life is a catalogue of beauty and pain, from the breakup that triggered her breakdown all the way back to a carefully forgotten moment in childhood. Her telling is poetry, fragments that evoke colors and emotions. The powerful men who carelessly impacted her life—her father, her ex-husband, her once-and-future Casey—fault her for her muchness while exercising subtle strategies to deny her memories and her self. Terese has not “dealt with it” or forgiven them the way white people think she should. (Finding a therapist who can begin to understand her is yet another source of pain.)
Recommended for immediacy of language, freshness of voice, and the mind-opening experience of hearing an indigenous woman tell her own story. Not for the faint of heart, or for those who need everything to be OK at the end.