Terese Marie Mailhot bares it all in her memoir, Heart Berries. Nothing’s off limits—abuse, mental illness, dysfunctional family and relationships. I often say that a good memoir lets me slide inside the author’s skin. This is a rough skin to spend time in, and I give Mailhot credit for her unvarnished telling.
Mailhot also shares insights into her upbringing and life on a Canadian First Nation reservation. She connects to the healers, artists, and activists in her family. At the same time, none of these people are perfect, and Mailhot isn’t afraid to shine her light into their darkness. But you also feel her connecting that light to herself and becoming more clear about her own issues.
Plus, she unflinchingly lays out prejudice and savior complexes from the white people in her life, most especially the man she’s writing letters to in some chapters.
“I think self-esteem is a white invention to further separate one person from another. It asks people to assess their values and implies people have worth. It seems like identity capitalism.” (page 26, ebook)
This was a tough read. I started on audiobook, and thought the narrator read the book with a frustrating, choppy style. Then I picked up the Kindle version, and found that some of that was based on Mailhot’s own writing style. She has a stream-of-consciousness approach, shifting from her lover to her father to her children all in half a breath. It can be disconcerting.
On the other hand, reading is my way to experience a life radically different than my own. And Heart Berries delivers that in spades. Mailhot is insightful and uses language to touch the reader’s heart. Right before she smacks you upside the head.
“Observation is a skill. Observation isn’t easy, and the right eyes can make me feel like a deer, while the wrong ones make me feel like a monster.” (page 17, ebook)
If you’re looking for a indigenous, feminist, angry voice that’ll break your heart and rile you up, this is the book for you.