Heart Berries (Mailhot)

Heart Berries: A Memoir
Terese Marie Mailhot, 2018
Counterpoint Press
160 pp.

A powerful, poetic memoir of a woman's coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest.

Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder, Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma.

The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot's mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father—an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist—who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn't exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept.

Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.

With an Introduction by Sherman Alexie and an Afterword by Joan Naviyuk Kane. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Terese Marie Mailhot graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts with an M.F.A. in fiction. Mailhot’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Times, Carve Magazine, The Offing, The Toast, Yellow Medicine Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of several fellowships―SWAIA Discovery Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, Writing by Writers Fellowship, and the Elk Writer’s Workshop Fellowship―she was recently named the Tecumseh Postdoctoral Fellow at Purdue University and resides in West Lafayette, Indiana. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Don't be fooled by the title. Terese Marie Mailhot's memoir…is a sledgehammer.… Heart Berries has a mixture of vulnerability and rage, sexual yearning and artistic ambition, swagger and self-mockery.… [Mailhot] is unsparing to everyone, especially herself.… Her experiments with structure and language …are in the service of trying to find new ways to think about the past, trauma, repetition and reconciliation, which might be a way of saying a new model for the memoir.… So much of what Mailhot is moving toward here still feels nascent—the book wants a tighter weave, more focus. But give me narrative power and ambition over tidiness any day.
Parul Sehgal - New York Times

Sometimes a writer’s voice is so distinctive, so angry and messy yet wise, that her story takes on the kind of urgency that makes you turn pages faster and faster. Terese Marie Mailhot has one of those voices, and her memoir about being raised on a Canadian reservation and coming to understand what it means to be an indigenous person in modern times is breathtaking.

A luminous, poetic memoir.
Entertainment Weekly

Poetic is an oft-used descriptor of lovely writing, and this book seems to be something more striking than the word signifies: a memoir and a poem, a haunting and dazzlingly written narrative of Mailhot’s growing up on a reservation in the Pacific Northwest.
Huffington Post

Terese Marie Mailhot's cathartic, moving Heart Berries is one of the bravest and most fearless of such books. Her coming-of-age [novel] … carries larger, universal lessons for the human spirit and its survival. A necessary book. — Rick Simonson, The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
Indie Next List

Mailhot’s first book defies containment and categorization. In titled essays, it is a poetic memoir told in otherworldly sentences.… Not shy, nor raw, nor typical in any way, this is a powerfully crafted and vulnerable account of living and writing about it.

Mailhot fearlessly addresses intimately personal issues with a scorching honesty derived from psychological pain and true epiphany.… An elegant, deeply expressive meditation infused with humanity and grace.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for HEART BERRIES ... then take off on your own:

1. Talk about the horror that was Terese Marie Mailhot's early years—a childhood marked with addiction, poverty, and abuse.

2. In what way is Mailhot's story reflective of the way American Indians have suffered at the hands of white people?

3. In the essay "Indian Sick," what are the multiple diagnoses Mailhot receives in the hospital?

4. What is the significance of the title Heart Berries?

5. At one point, Mailhot quips, "Indian girls can be forgotten so well they forget themselves." She also writes that "no one wants to know why Indian women leave or where they go." Why does it seem that native women are treated worse than white women? Is that what Mailhot is saying?

6. Does the process of writing her memoir generate for Mailhot a burgeoning sense of redemption? Does her story follow the typical arc from suffering to happiness … or not.

7. In her afterward Q&A with Joan Naviyuk Kane, Mailhot insists that she doesn't "feel liberated from the governing presence of tragedy.… [W]e are not liberated from injustice; we're anchored to it." What does she mean? Can anything reverse or correct the injustices done to indigenous people?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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