The story of the popular Native American author’s difficult upbringing.
Alexie (Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, 2012, etc.) won the National Book Award for his semiautobiographical young-adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007). Readers of that book will recognize some of those stories in this hardscrabble memoir about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. In 142 chapters that combine poetry and prose, he goes back and forth in time as he riffs on his early years and his often verbally cruel and emotionally unpredictable mother and the conflicted relationship they had. In the early 1970s, Alexie’s parents and six children moved into a one-bedroom reservation house that lacked indoor plumbing or electricity. Later they moved to a “shoddily constructed” HUD house. Both parents were alcoholics; his mother quit drinking a few years later. Born hydrocephalic, Alexie had brain surgery at 5 months and again when he was 2. He suffered epileptic seizures until he was 7. Four soft burr holes in his skull remain, as well as a “Frankenstein mess of head scars.” He had “epically crooked teeth” and would “stutter and lisp.” He was constantly ridiculed. Always poor, his mother quilted to make money. His father did odd jobs, spent time in jail, and had numerous car accidents when drunk. When Alexie was 17, his father disappeared on a drinking binge. After seven days, he had to go look for him: “It was a family rule.” On the reservation, “violence is a clock, / ordinary and relentless. Even stopped, it doesn’t stop.” Alexie is related to “men who hit women, and to men and women who hit children.” Written in his familiar breezy, conversational, and aphoristic style, the book makes even the darkest personal experiences uplifting and bearable with the author’s wit, sarcasm, and humor.
Despite some repetition, this is a powerful, brutally honest memoir about a mother and the son who loved her.