Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot
Published by Counterpoint Press
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Memoir, Non-fiction
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.