Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot
Published by Counterpoint Press
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Memoir, Non-fiction
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
It’s hard, as a reviewer, to say you loved a book or felt deeply touched by it, but that you’re not sure you understood a lot of it. And by understand, I mean, literally, the facts. This is the case for me regarding Terese Mailhot’s memoir, Heart Berries. The emotion of it gripped me. The symbolism of her words is a cold, clear stream—shocking and cleansing. For much of the slender book I’m uncertain exactly what she’s talking about, not because her life experiences are unknowable, but because the only way she can portray them is through her poetic interpretation of language. As she says in the first pages
It’s too ugly—to speak this story. It sounds like a beggar. How could misfortune follow me so well, and why did I choose it every time?
I learned how to make a honey reduction of the ugly sentences.
Her words are honey, with unique and subtle flavors, but the sharp subtext of her life as a Native American woman is still there. A life of abuse and neglect when she was little that left her in the foster care system. Marrying young to get out of the system and then becoming a mother herself before she could take care of herself. Committing herself when she knew self-harm was fast becoming the only solution she saw to her life. Falling love with a white man who is not abusive but elusive; who seems to have no idea of who she is at her heart.
You have made me feel sick of myself.
All of this is loosely woven, parsed visually and evocatively, without any bald recitation of facts. The substance of Heart Berries is largely hinted at and inferred, but no less painful or real. The memoir is derived from the notebook Mailhot writes in while she was at the psychiatric clinic. Words were her only way back to herself, but while they are printed on a page they feel more spoken—the disjointed verbal history one person shares with another. Mailhot is the storyteller and with Heart Berries she bravely exposes the viscera of her sorrowful life.
I am almost finished with this one and was soooo amazed! I love the sparse prose and felt I could relate to quite a few of her experiences and feelings. How brave to ‘bare her soul’ as she has done. I had the best time speaking with her a couple of weeks ago at our local bookstore. Her youngest son was definitely playin’ to the crowd and entertaining us all. I agree with your insight that this was more conversational in nature than most writing. (I felt it was somewhat similar to Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.) I so admire her husband…much as I admired my own uncle for remaining faithful to my aunt who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He and her older son kinda hung in the background while she talked with us readers. And the end! Oh, my…I have no idea how to survive such acts, especially from your own father. 🙁
How wonderful that you got to meet her! That is interesting insight because in just reading the book, I didn’t get a sense that her husband was a great guy. It felt like he didn’t want to marry, might have been cheating. It reinforces my feeling that I wasn’t always sure what I was reading.
Amy @ Read a Latte says
Oooh this sounds exactly like something I would love right now! Definitely adding it to my list!
She has a truly unique style of writing. I wondered if it was due to her Native American background and the practice of sharing history verbally. It’s really hard to describe but if you read it I hope you like it!
Hmm. Some of the poetic / & verbal parts you describe with this one remind me a bit of the Shermie Alexie memoir I listened to as an audiobook last year. It’s different but it is neat & powerful at times to hear the poetic parts too … that these Native American writers seem to share.
Wow. OK, you got it exactly. Alexie wrote the foreword for her. And I definitely think it had a Native American ‘spoken’ feel to it.